Thursday, April 6, 2017

Disruptive Gobbledygook

What is it with this word "disruptive" and all the other nonsense words we are using today?

Words matter, except when they don't mean anything.  And increasingly, we are using words or coming up with new words that often make no sense.

For example, in response to a recent PR debacle involving a Pepsi commercial (which tried to riff off the BLM protests), Pepsi released this statement which is just, well, bullshit:
PepsiCo had said the ad was part of a campaign to celebrate “Live For Now” moments: “Moments when we decide to let go, choose to act, follow our passion and nothing holds us back.” The short film “showcases elements of the Pepsi disruptive design program that combines icons with expressive typography to capture the moments that ignite action,” the company said.
Read that last paragraph again and again until you understand it.  Go ahead.  Take your time.  I'll just be waiting right here.  Give up?  Yea, me too.

Of course, the Trump administration is Tapp-ing into this new languagification in a Bigly way. Former homeless man, Steven Bannon is quoted as saying, “Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration, I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized.”

Operationalized?   Is that even a word?  (Not according to my spell check!).   Of course, Bannon is an amateur compared to his boss, or soon-to-be ex-boss, as one or both of them look for new jobs, so we can only hope.

What is it with these words and where do they come from and what do they mean?  Well the latter is easy to figure out.  They are designed to obfuscate and distract.  They say nothing and something at the same time.  They sound like legitimate reasons or excuses, when in fact they are meaningless.  And they are also coded messages (dog-whistles - another phrase du jour) to certain demographics.

The paranoid alt.right on Reddit know what "Operationalized" means.  It means "Susan Rice was spying on us!" without actually saying that and thus having to defend yet another wild baseless accusation through another 24-hour news cycle.  You can say it without saying it.   And Trump and Bannon are masters at this.

The Pepsi one is harder to parse.   I think it translates to, "we screwed up.  We thought it would be funny to use some iconic images, to sell Pepsi, but it went over about as well as using the man in front of the tank in Tienanmen square offering a Pepsi to the tank driver.  Say, that's not a bad idea for our next campaign!"

Where do these words and phrases come from?  Well, catchphrases and words get knocked around all the time.  When I was young, people said things like "far out, man!" but after a few years it fell from favor.  Over time, we tend to use different words - symbols, really - to capture ideas into a few syllables.   And these become popular to represent a concept, and our language evolves.   Of course, most of these are mere trends lasting months, weeks, or a few years.

Disruptive, I suppose is one way to describe this phenomenon, and it is a word that had been used to describe everything from disruption in politics to disruption in technology.   Uber will disrupt the taxi cab business, we are told (the taxi companies haven't had the last word on this - it ain't over until the fat lady sings, my friend!).   Trump is disrupting government, which I guess means "incompetently administering" or "failing to lead" or "starting World War III" depending on your interpretation.

And Mea Culpa, I have found myself using the phase in at least three posts, including this one.  We hear these new words and start to adopt them.

Sad!  (Guess who made that popular?).

Sadly, though, it is true, use of these 'buzzwords' often acts as substitute for real thinking or real communication.  When I was caught up in the "dot com" holocaust, people were telling me about a "new paradigm" and a "sea change" coming to the Internet.   Maybe that changed happened, but the people telling me this were bankrupt a few years later.  As it turns out, they were just repeating bullshit words they read in someone else's powerpoint presentation.

Now, you'll have to excuse me while I go work on my disruptive design program that combines icons with expressive typography to capture the moments that ignite action.   In other words, I'm going to bed.