Friday, July 31, 2009

Why the Internet reminds me of Analytic Philosophy

This isn't really meant as a dig, but it's going to come across this way, for exactly the reasons I'm about to explain.

Why do I hate most blog comments? Why does so much e-mail come across the wrong way? Conversational Implicature, my friends! For all the great things that the Internet can do, like distribute free pornography and cures to erectile dysfunction to the huddled masses, one thing it appears to be lousy at, as a medium, is revealing a writer's intention. Beats me why, especially when the same words in a newspaper or a magazine seem to be more charitably taken than on the net.

And when I say I'm reminded of analytic philosophy, I simply mean that there is a kind of correlation here between what we focus on, like prepositions and what we leave out, like hand and facial gestures. The Internet seems to be a really horrible for the gesture.

Case in point is Russell Smith's column in the Globe and Mail yesterday, where he proposes a writing contest that parodies canlit. Now generally Smith gets slagged in the comments because he's too high-brow for the donut munching proletarians who troll the Globe site. Of course, this is because they miss the point of his writing, they miss his style.

So I find it especially amusing that when Smith asserts that he has a style, people are quick to point out that he really doesn't, because they completely miss his style, which is in full view in this very column - his sardonic wit tempered by a certain gentility, his aesthetic curiosity tempered by a strong sense of taste.

That everyone misses this isn't really Smith's fault, it's theirs, isn't it? I mean, do we really all have to write in such a way as the analytic philosophers believed language worked at the turn of the century, in declarative sentences which leave no content out for the reader to infer? Isn't this also what garbage like the plain language movement is about?

Could it be that the Internet effaces style? I have long wondered this myself, looking at my own prose on this site and often finding it wanting. Anyway, if you have an opinion on this matter, feel free to share it!

No comments: