the Sweet Smell of Burning Fur (plonq) wrote,
the Sweet Smell of Burning Fur
plonq

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Hyperbole and a half

Before I start, I want to lament the fact that I have not managed to crop and scale this picture in a manner that renders the text readable in an avatar here.

I know Klingon!

Now, on with the grump.

I have come to the conclusion that Facebook serves an important role in irritating me in the unlikely event that I do not have enough annoyances in my life. The latest source of irritation is a video to which my sister linked on the weekend. It was not so much the video that set me off, but the site on which it resided.

The video was largely forgettable; it was some guy I had never heard of reciting slam poetry about how modern technology has served to isolate us rather than bring us together. His poem was overlaid with a sappy musical score, and stills of groups of happy people, transitioning to people either obsessing with their phones, or standing by themselves. For example, in one scene there was a group of happy friends enjoying a sunset, which then melted into a scene of a lone person taking a picture of the sunset on their smart phone.

I felt that he raised a few good points, but buried them in a steaming mound of Luddite blather. I don't know if there was a pay-off at the end because I stopped watching about halfway through. In my humble opinion, he had stated his thesis at in the opening lines, supplied his supporting suppositions in the next minute, and was spending the final 4-5 minutes of his poetic rant belabouring his point.

I get it - he doesn't like seeing people use their smart phones in public. Maybe he had some other points he wanted to raise, but all I heard was "Wah - nobody likes my stuff on Facebook!"

The worst, most egregious part of the video was nothing to do with the production itself, nor the poet, but with the description on the blog that was hosting it. I cannot remember it exactly, but I can string together enough hyperbole to replicate it pretty closely here: THIS VIDEO LEFT ME SPEECHLESS FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER! EVERYONE NEEDS TO SEE THIS VIDEO. IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

I rolled my eyes when I saw that, but I did not initially let it stop me from watching at least part of the regrettable video. After I aborted it halfway through, I went back to the main page of the blog and started reading the descriptions of other movies on the site. They all followed a similar theme.

THIS TWO-YEAR-OLD GOES ON A TALENT SHOW. YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!

THIS DOG IS AMAZING! THIS IS THE FUNNIES THING I HAVE SEEN IN MY WHOLE LIFE.

THIS IS THE MOST INSPIRATIONAL THING YOU WILL EVER SEE. YOU WILL CRY AND LAUGH IN DISBELIEF!

YOU WON'T BELIEVE THE INCREDIBLE ACTS OF SELFLESSNESS AND BRAVERY BY THESE KIDS, THEN A MIRACLE HAPPENS NEXT!

I WAS SO MOVED BY THIS SONG I CAME IN MY PANTS.

THESE TWO PUPPIES ARE WATCH THIS VIDEO WATCH THIS VIDEO OH JESUS OH GOD WATCH THIS VIDEO

WATCH THIS VIDEO IT IS THE BEST EVER WATCH THIS VIDEO VALIDATE MY EXISTENCE

WATCH WATCH WATCH WATCH CONSUME

I suppose I should not be surprised. There has been a something of a hyperbole arms race lately. Sites like Buzzfeed, HuffPo and others have been slowly cranking up the catchwords in their headlines to try and draw in readers, so it should not surprise anyone if it begins leaking over into other blogs.

On the one hand, other than being an insult to the intelligence, there is no real harm in it. To me, it represents a general dumbing down; it lowers the bar of good, and suggests that we are easily impressed by the mundane. If my fellow citizens are willing to sell themselves short for mediocrity, it is not my place to tell them their price is too low. I should be perfectly capable of tuning these things out with all of the other inane chatter of the world (like my boss demanding to know why my project isn't done yet or the like).

On the other hand, I am concerned over how quickly we are degrading the value of our language. When words like STUNNING, MIND-BLOWING, AWESOME, AMAZING, UNBELIEVABLE, INCREDIBLE are used to describe a dancing toddler, what words can we use for truly awesome things? Since when is somebody's autotuned, singing cat on par with the discovery of a new genus in the Amazon, or lightning cutting through a 50-story vortex of ash and lava over an active volcano?

I think the problem is that we are losing our sense of wonder. The guy in the video may have a point, but not the one he was trying to make. I don't think technology has isolated us, I think it has jaded us. We are surrounded by so many things that we'd have regarded as miraculous only a few years ago that we are running out of words to describe them. We have become so entranced by the shinies, and the constant stream of new, amazing things that we have lost sight of some of the truly astounding wonders that are right under our noses.

Like language.

Just by exhaling and flexing various muscles as the air escapes, we can relay complex ideas to anyone close enough to pick up the vibrations we emit. We can create entire worlds in their minds, as beautiful, ugly or intricate as we desire. We can teach, indoctrinate, comfort and amuse, just by exhaling with a purpose. The grunts, groans, clicks and fricatives we call speech can build and destroy lives. Even better, we have managed to turn those sounds into an abstract form that we can chip into stone, or etch on paper, or render on a screen, and it still carries the same power and meaning. We can share our thoughts with anyone, anywhere instantly. This is the kind of thing that I find amazing.

But we treat it like last year's model.

We don't treat our toys with respect any more because we know the latest model is just a few months away. By the time your phone splashes in the toilet, the next model is already on the shelves. We live in a world where everything is fungible. Why should it be a surprise if we treat our language the same way? If we use up the impact of our words, we can just replace them with new ones down the road, right? Surely somebody out there is working on new words for us. Somebody.
Tags: hyperbole
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