Monday, June 9, 2008

Grammar Problems in the Computer Age

Facebook has a function that allows its users to compare people, appropriately titled "Compare People". And the program helpfully sends e-mails that alert the user as to how they indeed compare to other people. It is a weird, weird, weird program -and I would delete it but I have an odd fascination with how my ranking in the categories continually goes down. I kind of like to watch it; and it is also interesting -though slightly (only slightly) insecurity building- to see how other people rank. By my estimate, one girl I'm Facebook friends with is #1! in every single bloody category. Hottest? Yup. Best probable mom? Yup. Most desired? Yup. The entire program, like high school superlatives, is nothing but one big popularity contest. Just more proof that we never truly leave high school. We users also get e-mails that show us our individual general strengths and weaknesses. Mine break down like so:

most kiss-able

most entertaining
most reliable

When did those two things become weaknesses? I would consider humor a much better strength than hotness. It is easier to maintain, for one thing. And reliability is something we generally seem to hold up as a gold standard. The girl at the office who shows up to work every day on time, works well, and makes few mistakes gets promoted. The guy who calls his friends and girlfriend when he says he will gets to keep both. These two traits are good things, and it is beyond odd to me that a Facebook program thinks otherwise; and also that ninth graders are competing for "hottest", but that is a wholly different rant.

It also occurred to me -albeit much later- that the source of my outrage may merely be a syntactical error; that what the program is truly intending to convey may very well be that although I'm hot, I'm neither entertaining nor reliable. And that is upsetting on a whole other level, most because I am completely entertaining! I am a laugh-riot, and it is slightly off-putting that others wouldn't think so. Unfortunately, my unreliability is something a prosecutor could make an iron clad case for -and the source of my epiphany, actually. Only a fool or someone with a pool of absolutely atrocious friends would vote me consistently the most reliable. 

But it is also depressing because of the whole "English language is a dying art" aspect of it. Who else is depressed by Blogger saying that a particular blog entry has "1 comments"? Because it upsets me every time I see it. And I know it is because these things are computer generated -that the computers do not have the ability to understand that "0 comments" and "2 comments" are grammatically correct, but it needs to be changed to "comment" when there is only one. However, there are programers responsible for developing the language. How hard is it to program these things so that they follow some of the laws of the English language? Because sometimes it isn't a matter of grammar nazis simply being cranky people intent on making life more difficult for the rest of humanity, a category the eye-twitching "1 comments problem" falls under. Sometimes it really is a matter of clarity; and although clarity in a Facebook e-mail is not a matter of the utmost importance, lack of clarity in writing is something that is becoming an epidemic; and not solely amongst things generated by machines. And that, my friends, is a rather large issue and one we need to work to correct.


jjfs85 said...

So do it bothers you when grammars ain't correctly?

MediaMaven said...

Now the comments section will be grammatically correct. :)

But also, it bugged the hell out of me that on Facebook you used to not be allowed to remove the is! Sometimes it was so hard to say what you wanted to say by fitting it into the mold...because we want everyone to know something stupid about us...

I briefly added the compare people app, but I found it depressing and illogical, so I stopped.