Monday, September 17, 2018

Language and the Nature of Control

I can't even understand English anymore...

Like many of you, I read today that Time magazine was sold to some dude who runs a company called "salesforce" which does something related to "cloud" computing.   I heard of the company peripherally, but since I am no longer in the technology business, and since I don't live in Silicon Valley - or indeed work at all - I had no idea what the company did.   So I looked it up on Wikipedia, and after reading the description, I still had no idea what the company did (except make a lot of money, apparently):

Salesforce[edit]Salesforce is the primary enterprise offering within the Salesforce platform. It provides companies with an interface for case management and task management, and a system for automatically routing and escalating important events. The Salesforce customer portal provides customers the ability to track their own cases, includes a social networking plug-in that enables the user to join the conversation about their company on social networking websites, provides analytical tools and other services including email alert, Google search, and access to customers' entitlement and contracts.[17]

Oddly enough, the reports about the sale of Time don't mention what Salesforce does, as I guess the reporters can't figure out, either.  I can sort of figure out roughly what they do, from that description, but most of the language is tech-speak and remarkably vague (same thing).  I didn't get what "cases" referred to - legal cases?  Briefcases?  What?   What is probably true is that I have interacted with software written by this company sometime in my life already - probably on some website or other, hopefully not one of these 404 error-ridden ones (like Blue Cross or Holland America).   But then again....

It struck me that times have changed so much in the last few years that I don't understand basic English anymore.   Engineers and techies have always talked in a secret code, of course, whether they were referring to things like entropy and enthalpy in mechanical engineering, or things like parity or checksum bits in computer engineering.  It is just noise to people not familiar with the science.  But today, it seems that more and more of this "science" is the science of doing business and manipulating people through online experiences.

And I guess it struck me that advertising, social media, and all of this hooey that I decry is just a way of controlling people - with a carrot, not a stick.  And perhaps this is why capitalism is superior to communism.   Advertisers and other manipulators create demand for products or services.  You watch television for hours on end and then decide (on your own, of course) that you need to have a honking big new SUV or a racy Camaro.   So you sign your life away with loan papers and you get your new toy, but now you are beholden to your job and your boss, so you can make money to pay for this nightmare.   But it is a nightmare you signed up for, willingly.  So you trudge off to work - or ride off in your shiny new SUV - happy to have a bauble.  And the system is happy they have controlled you without having to order you around.

In a communist country, the opposite takes place - the stick is used.  You go to work, or else.   There is no carrot involved at all, other than the carrot you might be allowed to buy at the end of the day to stave off starvation.   There is no incentive to work, other than the fear of being punished by the secret police.   And in short, that is why communist countries fail and why capitalist countries succeed.   People prefer the carrot to the stick, even if the end result is the same - they are chained to a desk all day long and are beholden to others.

And folks in those communist countries, they want shiny new Camaros, but never, of course, will get them.  Maybe after years on a waiting list, they can buy a Trabant.  But that's about it.

In a way, it is a beautiful system.   We are all manipulated and controlled and forced to do things against our will, but at the same time, we believe we are doing these things on our own "free will".   We work to have a shiny car to impress people we don't even know, or to have a look-at-me house that impresses no one (because everyone else on the block has the same house).   We desire "things" and are willing to enslave ourselves to get them.   And advertisers and managers and businesspeople know this.   My boss was never so happy as the day I showed up for work with a new car and a string of car payments.   He knew I wouldn't be quitting my job anytime soon!

But it is all one and the same thing, really.  Whether it is a blaring ad on the television, a billboard by the highway, a snarky posting on social media (from the Russian Internet Research Agency) or whatever.  We are prodded and poked and provoked into doing things, and the beauty of it all is that we end up thinking we came up with these ideas on our own.

And you can see this, sometimes, when you talk to people who have swallowed the hook, and barf up, intact, the "talking points" they heard on Fox News or some other media outlet.   I ran into a nice British lady the other day, and I asked her about Brexit.  She barfed up, word-for-word, talking points from Boris Johnson (Boris? Isn't that a Russian name?) about how the Polish are over-running Great Britain and taking up all the space in hospital and university - to the point where they've run out of the word "the."

I doubt she experienced any of this directly - that she was elbowed aside from the emergency room by some Polish immigrant or asylum-seeker.  Rather, it was a talking point she heard on television.  Not mentioned in these talking points are the economic consequences that will occur when London no longer is the primary or even secondary economic center of the world - but instead becomes relegated to backwater status.   Oh well, it was a nice empire for a while.  Such is the fate of all empires, I guess.

But then again, is this an original idea of my own?  Or am I too, being manipulated?   The sad answer to the latter is, unfortunately, a solid "Yes."  Because we all are.