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Thursday, 14 March 2013

The content is irrelevant

One of my favourite bloggers, Marbury (Ian Leslie), has had a delightful go at the New York Times (though truth be told it could equally be the Grauniad).

He fisks Nick Bilton's ridiculously pretentious piece on the etiquette of digital communication.

Bilton claims that everybody who is everybody is brusque on their ipad/iphone, never saying hello in email and never checking voice mail, even if it pisses off their father.

Bilton quotes Baratunde Thurston, who is a "politically-active, technology-loving comedian", on how annoyed he is at being asked on Twitter where people can buy his book. 'Google it (you idiot)', says Thurston, 'you're on a computer!'

Bilton just sounds rude and childish, I doubt that Emily Post would approve, but Marbury points out that it is Thurston who just doesn't get human communication. Questions about his book are phatic expression, that is, attempts at communication where the content of what is being said is irrelevant, it's the actuality of communication, of connection, that's more important.

We English do this all the time when we talk about the weather.

Marbury finds a really lovely Ian McEwan quote, talking about his mother, to get across this point about how communication without content ... still has content:
"Look at all them cows." And then later, "Look at them cows and that black one. He looks daft, dud'n he?" "Yes, he does." When I was 18, on one of my infrequent visits home, resolving yet again to be less surly, less distant, repeated conversations of this kind would edge me towards silent despair, or irritation, and eventually to a state of such intense mental suffocation, that I would sometimes make excuses and cut my visit short.

"See them sheep up there. It's funny that they don't just fall off the hill, dud'n it?" Perhaps it's a lack in me, a dwindling of the youthful fire, or perhaps it's a genuine spread of tolerance, but now I understand her to be saying simply that she is very happy for us to be out together seeing the same things. The content is irrelevant. The business is sharing.

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