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robertogreco : semantics   17

Semantic Drain and the Meaninglessness of Modern Work
"Stop calling your social media manager a "guru""

"When I was on staff at the International Business Times in 2015, I had an editor who hated jargon. "If you use the word 'space,'" he said once, "you better fucking be talking about outer space." I did my part by creating a Jargon Jar. Into the jar clanked coins every time one of us used "content" or "space" or whatever dumb MBA or tech neologism had been handed to us by sources who sounded like—and were mostly nothing more than—hucksters."

[image: @Galadriel1971: "Trust is changing. Companies like Uber are changing the paradigm by distributing trust @rfordonsecurity @ForcepointSec #ForcepointCLF #cybersecurity @fedscooop"]

Really, jargon isn't all that far off from slang—vocabulary in use within a particular industry, as opposed to a more organic culture. Jargon is the reason air traffic control memes are funny in a bewildering sort of way; it is how an industry talks to itself, creating what feels like a subculture in an environment where the elements of real culture are often prohibited. The gradual creep of jargon outside of its intended industries, though, has heralded an even more unsettling linguistic phenomenon: semantic drain.

Languages mutate constantly; the meanings of words can shift dramatically over the course of just a few years. Take the word "stan," which came into popular use as a derogatory term for creepily obsessive fans thanks to an Eminem song about a creepily obsessed fan named Stan.* Creepily obsessed fans, offended, began to use the term themselves, ironically, and now usage in general is borderline positive. It's weird, and I'm not particularly happy about this particular change, but, well, what are you gonna do.

In the last four or five years, though, I have been seeing more and more words permeating the vernacular that do not have any real meaning—or, worse, words that once had a specific, tactile meaning being drained of that meaning by "corporate culture."

"Content" is the offender that springs most readily to mind. It's a catch-all now, hardly better than "stuff," for one-way communication: the listicle, the 6-second video, the 3,000-word article, the 45-minute video essay, the season of television. I use "content" as an insult, to designate writing I do that has no value. It's not the word's fault. Blame the steady descent of journalism into a hell where you're lucky to make $20 for a 300-word post, and the concomitant rise of advertising as the dominant form of communication in our world.

It's no longer enough to be a reporter, an editor—these titles carry with them the feel of specialization, as though their bearers are capable of doing "only" one thing. A "content strategist," though—that implies flexibility, a knowledge of a multitude of disciplines, the fortitude to work with brands, the ability to create video content that brings in far more ad dollars per 1,000 viewers than words alone on a web page.

You can see a couple different etymologies for this new usage. Most online publications have a content management system that contains text and photos and other elements used in stories; journalists love inflicting their jargon onto the public (I am as guilty of this as any). Or take juicy-mummy capitalist Sumner Redstone’s famous declaration that “Content is king”—referring to the actual content of a movie or TV series, as opposed to the delivery method or format. Journalists and analysts and people on television love quoting juicy mummies, and a game of linguistic telephone ensues.

That's how you go from the "contents may be hot" warning to people seriously talking about "content networks." You see the same phenomenon with "solution," "space," and "product;" with "brand," with "talent." The phrase "corporate culture" is a devilish oxymoronic weed, draining the word "culture" of all its vibrancy and significance. Companies offer “solutions” to problems that don’t exist, because there is no other way to describe that they are offering nothing of value. Even "trust" is being slowly marched toward the gaping maw of late-capitalistic semantic drain, thanks to companies like Facebook and Uber.

[image: "The Unlikely Rise of the Pastel de Nata, and Why It’s Suddenly Everywhere]

"Late-capitalistic semantic drain" sounds like its own uniquely hellish bullshit neologism. But I swear it does mean something: the lack of meaning spreading through English, driven by a corporate monoculture devoted solely to profit.

I have a hypothesis that this semantic drain is tied to the meaninglessness of modern work: These companies are co-opting words with tangible meanings and draining them of such to obscure the fact that they rarely produce anything of value to society, and that their employees are spending most of their waking hours performing labor with no meaning.

The plural of "anecdote" is hardly "data," but I find myself overwhelmed by the number of people in my social circle who are having constant work-related breakdowns, or who are chucking aside any notion of having a "career," because they have seen exactly how much of a crock of shit careerism is. That's aside from the number of people I know or have simply spoken to over the last several years who hate their job, who find waking up to go to their job an increasingly unbearable proposition even if it comes with "perks," even if they desperately need the health insurance. It's not just because their boss sucks, or their coworker eats their lunch: Everywhere in America—I won't speak to the rest of the world; but America, I've been all around—you will find people completely alienated from their labor. That is, they find no meaning in half their waking hours,** the ones they spend "working."

I put "working" in quotation marks because the kind of work I'm talking about isn't really work, is it? When you spend three business days creating a PowerPoint presentation using work done by someone else, only to be told by your boss that you fucked up by making the arrows blue instead of red, do you feel any sense of ownership of the thing you've created, or do you simply repeat to yourself that you need this job to make your student loan payments? When you're on your feet for 8 hours carefully re-folding t-shirts that shitty people looked at and then tossed on the floor like some naughty child, or being berated by someone whose credit card was declined thrice, do you feel as though you've "put in a hard day's work"—or that you've spent half your waking hours being slowly crushed by the weight of the service economy? This feels more like toil than work, doesn't it?

This isn't just a feeling held by me and a few of my more radical friends. Anthropologist David Graeber wrote an entire book on the subject of "Bullshit Jobs." Graeber talks a lot in this book about how most jobs are "pointless," and while objective pointlessness is a hallmark of a lot of modern work, I prefer to talk about meaninglessness, because a job can be objectively pointless but still have some meaning or non-monetary value for the person doing it; a job can also be objectively necessary and not provide any meaning to the person doing it. (Not everyone's cut out to be a nurse.)

William Morris' "Useful Work vs. Useless Toil" essay from the late 1800s shows that the Industrial Revolution was raising the specter of meaningless work, so this isn't exactly a brand-new phenomenon. "As to the hope of product, I have said that Nature compels us to work for that," Morris wrote. "It remains for us to look to it that we do really produce something, and not nothing, or at least nothing that we want or are allowed to use."

Yet modern white-collar work is often completely removed from any sort of end product; it's not hard to see why this distance results in a profound sense of alienation. That alienation is exacerbated when the end "product" is consulting services, or "financial services," or denying a person coverage for a medical procedure, or marketing materials that literally less than a dozen people outside the company will read.

[image: @mgoldst: "Design job description red flags:

"ninja"
"unicorn"
"high-pressure environment"
"magic"
"rock star"
"family"
"wear multiple hats"
"disrupt"
"earning potential"
"possibility of becoming full-time"
"guru"
"must know (insert ridiculously long list of stuff here)"]

To counteract this alienation, to obscure the fact that these jobs are, as Graeber points out, "pointless," HR departments and startup founders, in particular, have begun to co-opt plenty of perfectly fine words: "Rock star." "Family." "Guru." "Wizard." "Hero." All they really mean is that you need to have a working knowledge of some system or another and no sense of dignity. The job descriptions that involve these words are most frequently found in the tech sector.

"Looking for a rock star coder to join our family," the HR enchantress writes. "Must be a high-performer who wants to disrupt and can wear multiple hats in a fast-paced environment. Free meals and laundry service!"

This description really means the company wants control over every moment of your day, has no idea what it’s actually hiring you to do, and will never reward you for exceeding expectations, because firstly there aren’t any and secondly you’re supposed to be a rock star, and so should always be exceeding expectations as a matter of course. The HR enchantress is attempting to blind you to this reality with words for things you aspire to in your life, but which you will never achieve (rock star-dom, family), especially if you take this job at a company attempting to create an app that performs the emotional labor your mother used to perform (Mothr).

Let me reiterate: These job descriptions are meaningless because the jobs themselves have no meaning.

[image: @Lucas_Shaw: "Pretty odd to see Hulu, owned by companies with a combined $400B, welcoming "rebels" to a carefully orchestrated advertising event."]

This semantic drain goes far beyond… [more]
2019  orianaschwindt  language  jargon  siliconvalley  words  titles  absurdity  latecapitalism  hucksters  gurus  late-capitalisticsemanticdrain  semantics  work  labor  corporatism  corporations 
may 2019 by robertogreco
How one college went from 10% female computer-science majors to 40% – Quartz
"Yes, we know there aren’t enough women in tech. Yes, we know we need to change the ratio.

One college has found the answer.

With a three-step method, Harvey Mudd College in California quadrupled its female computer science majors. The experiment started in 2006 when Maria Klawe, a computer scientist and mathematician herself, was appointed college president. That year only 10% of Harvey Mudd’s CS majors were women. The department’s professors devised a plan.

They no longer wanted to weed out the weakest students during the first week of the semester. The new goal was to lure in female students and make sure they actually enjoyed their computer science initiation in the hopes of converting them to majors. This is what they did, in three steps.

1. Semantics count

They renamed the course previously called “Introduction to programming in Java” to “Creative approaches to problem solving in science and engineering using Python.” Using words like “creative” and “problem solving” just sounded more approachable. Plus, as Klawe describes it, the coding language Python is more forgiving and practical.

As part of this first step, the professors divided the class into groups—Gold for those with no coding experience and Black, for those with some coding experience. Then they implemented Operation Eliminate the Macho Effect: guys who showed-off in class were taken aside in class and told, “You’re so passionate about the material and you’re so well prepared. I’d love to continue our conversations but let’s just do it one on one.”

Literally overnight, Harvey Mudd’s introductory CS course went from being the most despised required course to the absolute favorite, says Klawe.

But that was just the beginning.

2. Visualize success

After successfully completing the introductory class, how to ensure female students voluntarily signed up for another CS class? The female professors packed up the students and took them to the annual Grace Hopper Conference, which bills itself as a celebration of women in technology. Klawe says the conference is a place for students to visualize women in technology; humans who happened to be female who love computers. Not everyone looks like the dudes in the trailer for HBO’s Silicon Valley.

3. Make it matter

Finally, the college offered a summer of research between freshman and sophomore years so female students could apply their new skills and make something. “We had students working on things like educational games and a version of Dance Dance Revolution for the elderly. They could use computer technology to actually work on something that mattered,” says Klawe.

The three-step strategy resulted in a domino effect. Female students loved the CS introductory course. They loved going to the conference. So they took “just one more course” and they loved that.

Before they knew it, women were saying, “‘I could be a computer science major, I guess.’ And so they are!” says Klawe.

By the time the first four-year experiment was over the college had gone from 10% female computer science majors to 40% female. UC Berkeley, Duke, Northwestern have had some success with similar tactics."
education  gender  women  girls  programming  coding  compsci  computers  computerscience  harveymuddcollege  semantics  support  learning  mariaklawe  manoushzomorodi  2014  via:sha 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Chrestomathy - Wikipedia
"Chrestomathy (Pronounced krɛsˈtɑːmʌθiː/kres-TA-muh-thee from the Greek words khrestos, useful, and mathein, to know) is a collection of choice literary passages, used especially as an aid in learning a foreign language.

In philology or in the study of literature, it is a type of reader or anthology which presents a sequence of example texts, selected to demonstrate the development of language or literary style.

In computer programming, a program chrestomathy is a collection of similar programs written in various programming languages, for the purpose of demonstrating differences in syntax, semantics and idioms for each language. This term is thought[according to whom?] to have been first used by Eric S. Raymond in the Retrocomputing Museum web site. It is used by analogy to a linguistic chrestomathy."

[Found in: http://www.ftrain.com/times-inverted-index.html ]
learning  language  linguistics  words  chrestomathy  philology  programming  compsci  syntax  semantics  paulford 
may 2011 by robertogreco
Principle of compositionality - Wikipedia
"Jump to: navigation, search<br />
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In mathematics, semantics, and philosophy of language, the Principle of Compositionality is the principle that the meaning of a complex expression is determined by the meanings of its constituent expressions and the rules used to combine them. This principle is also called Frege's Principle, because Gottlob Frege is widely credited for the first modern formulation of it. However, the idea appears already among Indian philosophers of grammar such as Yāska, and also in Plato's work such as in Theaetetus."
language  linguistics  semantics  sarcasm 
november 2010 by robertogreco
Pleonasm - Wikipedia
"use of more words or word-parts than is necessary for clear expression: examples…black darkness, burning fire, digital download or redundant pleonasm. Such redundancy is, by traditional rhetorical criteria, a manifestation of tautology. The term "tautology" is derived from 2 Greek words meaning It says this, i.e. the same thing.

Often, pleonasm is understood to mean a word or phrase which is useless, clichéd, or repetitive, but a pleonasm can also be simply an unremarkable use of idiom. It can even aid in achieving a specific linguistic effect, be it social, poetic, or literary. In particular, pleonasm sometimes serves same function as rhetorical repetition—it can be used to reinforce an idea, contention or question, rendering writing clearer & easier to understand. Further, pleonasm can serve as a redundancy check: If a word is unknown, misunderstood, or misheard, or the medium of communication is poor, pleonastic phrases can help ensure that the entire meaning gets across"
english  grammar  language  linguistics  words  semantics  pleonasm  writing  via:thelibrarianedge 
october 2010 by robertogreco
‘So’ Pushes to the Head of the Line « Anand Giridharadas
"So, it is widely believed that the recent ascen­dancy of “so” began in Sil­i­con Val­ley. The jour­nal­ist Michael Lewis picked it up when research­ing his 1999 book “The New New Thing”: “When a com­puter pro­gram­mer answers a ques­tion,” he wrote, “he often begins with the word ‘so.”’ Microsoft employ­ees have long argued that the “so” boom began with them.

In the soft­ware world, it was a tic that made sense. In immigrant-filled tech­nol­ogy firms, it democ­ra­tized talk by replac­ing a world of pos­si­ble tran­si­tions with a catchall.
And “so” sug­gested a kind of think­ing that appealed to problem-solving types: con­ver­sa­tion as a log­i­cal, uni­di­rec­tional process, pro­ceed­ing much in the way of soft­ware code — if this, then that.

This log­i­cal tinge to “so” has fol­lowed it out of soft­ware. Start­ing a sen­tence with “so” uses the whiff of logic to relay author­ity. Where “well” vac­il­lates, “so” declaims."

[via: http://www.clusterflock.org/2010/06/meet-the-flockers-luke-neff.html ]
so  via:lukeneff  culture  english  semantics  slang  language  psychology  meaning  linguistics  journalism  writing  words  speech  anandgiridharadas 
june 2010 by robertogreco
Kevin Kelly -- The Technium - Four Stages in the Internet of Things
"apparent smarter nature of the web will be due to fact that web will "know" more. Not in conscious way, but in programatic way. Concepts & items represented on web will point to each other & know about each other -- in fundamental way they do not right n
kevinkelly  technium  semantic  web  online  internet  search  social  socialsoftware  socialnetworks  socialnetworking  networks  information  knowledge  data  future  trends  timberners-lee  semantics 
november 2007 by robertogreco
Human Brain Cloud: Play
"a massively multiplayer word association "game" or experiment ... or something. The idea is that given a word, a player types in the first thing that comes to mind and the results are combined into a giant network."
collectiveintelligence  crowdsourcing  words  game  play  gaming  language  english  games  data  collaboration  collective  meaning  brainstorming  semantics  semiotics  semanticweb  languages  linguistics  hivemind  multiplayer  wordplay  visualization  thesaurus  mmog  mindmapping  mindmap  dictionary  folksonomy  dictionaries 
november 2007 by robertogreco
Clive Thompson: Why Science Will Triumph Only When Theory Becomes Law
"Public discourse is inevitably political, so we need to talk about science in a way that wins the political battle — in no uncertain terms."
culture  evolution  language  society  clivethompson  law  religion  science  semantics  theory  words 
november 2007 by robertogreco
Jiglu: Tags that think
"Jiglu is a super-smart engine that pieces your site together, intelligently tagging and linking your web content"
tagging  tags  blogging  blogs  bookmarks  collaboration  datamining  sharing  web2.0  semantics  automation  generator  widgets  webdesign  services  networking  webdev 
october 2007 by robertogreco
AskOxford: Ask the Experts
"We have built a database of some of the questions sent in to the Oxford Word and Language Service team, so it is likely that if your question is a fairly broad one on grammar, usage, or words then it will be answered here. Simply choose a category and th
english  language  grammar  reference  semantics  spelling  symbols  dictionary  usage  words  writing  linguistics  dictionaries 
october 2007 by robertogreco
Semapedia.org: index
"Our goal is to connect the virtual and physical world by bringing the right information from the internet to the relevant place in physical space."
aggregator  location-based  ambient  annotation  taxonomy  folksonomy  semantic  semantics  semanticweb  mobile  phones  locative  location  maps  mapping  local  learning  information  geotagging  interactive  hyperlinks  qrcodes  socialnetworks  socialsoftware  semacode  tagging  geocoding  geography  everyware  ubicomp  ubiquitous 
october 2007 by robertogreco
Twine
"A revolutionary new way to share, organize, and find information. Use Twine to better leverage and contribute to the collective intelligence of your friends, colleagues, groups and teams. Twine ties it all together."
aggregator  annotation  bookmarking  bookmarks  collaboration  communication  wiki  socialsoftware  sharing  semantic  semanticweb  organization  information  search  knowledge  tagging  socialnetworks  networking  socialnetworking  networks  data  crowdsourcing  semantics  lifehacks  identity 
october 2007 by robertogreco
Borderland » Salvaging What’s Good
[Wayback: http://web.archive.org/web/20091212130419/http://borderland.northernattitude.org/2007/07/21/salvaging-whats-good/ ]

"The middle class won’t participate in Illich’s, or anyone else’s revolution until “disenchantment with and detachment from the central social ritual” inspires a popular reform movement. We’re having a political one right now with the standards movement, in fact, and it isn’t moving in Illich’s direction. The deschooled society he envisions is decidedly antagonistic to middle class consumer-oriented values."
deschooling  ivanillich  neilpostman  humbertomaturana  language  learning  economics  education  politics  policy  lcproject  reform  change  technology  semantics  sihayakawa 
august 2007 by robertogreco

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