English, S’il Vous Plaît!

This week I got an email from my “friends at IFTTT” informing me that I had to reconnect my Google Drive to API and I’d better do it PDQ or else I would miss out on something “awesome.” I stared at the email. Then I wrote back, annoyed, “English, s’il vous plaît.” They responded by sending me a list of all the “applets” included in my IFTTT service, as if that settled it. I suppose they thought it was self-evident like a truth in the Constitution. I deleted the email. Some truths I can do without.

I understand less and less lately. I’m not sure if that means I am developing spiritually or degenerating physically. Probably both. It is clear that at my rate of un-understanding, I will have to start school all over again within a few years. I have identified three possible causes.


First, information technology. It’s ridiculous. I don’t mean the actual technology. Software and design engineers have made gadgets pretty user-friendly, although I don’t get why I need a black cylinder in the house named Alexa. I mean the culture that has developed around technology. Words, concepts, and even social relations reflect the ethos of the machine. We now process everything and measure the inputs and outputs of human beings. And don’t get me started about “Human Resources,” which is an offensive term reminiscent of Aristotle’s description of slaves as “living tools.” Personnel was much better.

The English language is changing under our collective noses. Within the next ten years, “er” as a noun ending will cease to exist. Think of Flickr and Tumblr as well as a number of startups and niche companies (e.g., Informr, Mentr, Flyr, Sugr Cube, Lookr, Grindr).

The second reason, related to the first, is the pitiful state of communication among people. We don’t communicate with each other in any meaningful way. I’m not talking about a discussion with the guy at the Albanian coffee shop across the street about the refugee crisis, although that would be interesting. I mean anything beyond social media’s prescribed limits and rules.


People obey Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg, because they are terrified of being thrown off Twitter and Facebook island. Why? Those are their sole means of interaction with the outside world. The problem is that they end up not just communicating in 140 characters but thinking in them as well. And then they get nasty about it. Been on Facebook lately?

Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about popular culture, which leaves me in the dark when the conversation turns to the NFL or nude photos of Kim Kardashian. I also thought Katy Perry and Rick Perry were related. I do remember Bruce Jenner on a Wheaties cereal box, though.

Third–I hope I am not revealing too much here-I am not getting younger. This could be the reason I yell at students to speak up in class. Actually, I take that back. They forever mumble. I can usually make out what they are saying, but if a native Chinese speaker does a presentation on Walmart in Mexico and tries to pronounce the Aztec name of a city or town, I am in trouble. That’s exactly what happened recently. I had to move closer.

But with age comes focus. If I have to move closer to hear, I now sit back to listen. I am no longer up front in the conversation but behind, thinking about what I hear. That requires being present in an unhurried and detached way. I haven’t done this because of a Tony Robbins post on Twitter. It has come naturally, and I think it comes that way to most of us as we struggle through life.

Still, I complain. What can I say? It’s part of my charm. But if you have something to tell me, for God’s sake speak up and ditch the jargon. Maybe I’ll understand. S’il vous plaît.

Like fiction? Check out the “Mercury trilogy” (The Gringo and Laura Fedora) as well as the autobiographical Nine Lives here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”


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