Technology and Technics. Flolloping Floopily.

Once I started to create spam poetry and search term poetry, and I believed it was original. Then I discovered that great poets of the virtual scrapyard had come before me. Finally, I found serious articles about so-called Found Poetry and I found poets publishing their spam poetry in earnest. I learned about the Sokal hoax. Whatever you present as art, somebody will take it seriously.

Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem Jabberwocky was likely a satirical poem that mocks pompous style; yet it had turned into the object of serious literary critique.

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

–Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky – from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

In Gödel, Escher, Bach – an Eternal Golden Braid Douglas Hofstadter is thinking about thinking, pushing and popping through levels of meaning. He explains Gödel’s Proof, Zen Kōans, Bach’s fugues, viruses, Artificial Intelligence might be like, self-referentiality in Maurice Escher’s paintings. And Hofstadter compares levels of meaning in Lewis Carroll’s original Jabberwocky and in its German and French ‘translations’.

Es brillig war. Die schlichte Toven
Wirrten und wimmelten in Waben;
Und aller-mümsige Burggoven
Die mohmen Räth’ ausgraben.

–Robert Scott,  Der Jammerwoch. This German article with English quotations covers the background story – about the English philologist Robert Scott who wrote this German poem as a next-level parody: “[in a seance a] Spirit announced himself as Hermann vom Schwindel, – a name doubtless known to many of your readers; and he complained that the celebrated Jabberwock was taken from a German ballad by the well-known author of the Lyre (he spelt it Lyar; but this is not surprising in a German ghost using the English language) and Sword.”

Carroll has invented non-existing English words, yet you feel you get the overall meaning though. The German version does the same. Words seem to trigger closely related words and symbols in our minds. Douglas Adams also did it in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. He tells us about the mattresses in the swamps of Sqornshellous Zeta:

You should be more mattresslike. We live quiet retired lives in the swamp, where we are content to flollop and vollue and regard the wetness in a fairly floopy manner. Some of us are killed, but all of us are called Zem so we never know which and globbering is thus kept to a minimum.

–Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Complete Trilogy of Five.

Language is tricky, even if you do not want to create literature, but find simple, well-known words that serve as categories for websites that have been online and changing since years.

I have tried and failed to maintain consistent categories on my websites. Whenever I figure that I have implemented the perfect and timeless classification, meaning becomes slippery again. I re-tagged, re-categorized, converted tags to categories and vice versa, switched from built-in categories to custom category pages and back.

Once, there was a section called IT for Information Technology. It oscillated between narrow Public Key Infrastructure and wide IT. Then, the compromise: IT Security. I considered renaming to state-of-the-art Infosec or Cyber Security, but those terms still do not come natural to me. Had I started these categories even earlier on my German sites I might have called it EDV for Elektronische Datenverarbeitung, literally Electronic Data Processing – a dinosaur-y sounding precursor of IT. I cannot disentangle the shift of my personal interests and angle from a general shift of people’s usage of these words over time.

Some choices of mine have been imprudent, for my ignorance of the cultural cloud surrounding words. I tried to distinguish the virtual ethereal realm of computers, networks and protocols from the world of tangible machines like lasers and heat pumps – the three-dimensional technology you use in the lab. I picked Technik in German and Technology in English – under the impression that the English word Technics is hardly used (at least among ‘technologists’). Thus English Technology would be more on par with Technik – and more hands-on and down-to-earth than German Technologie. Technologie feels like part of the standard vocabulary of people who comment on technology without actually doing it. I introduced the cross-language abbreviation Tech for both Technik and Technology. Recently I learned that Tech is actually – or has become – the shorthand for an industry mainly rooted in IT. Software people have careers in tech.

I replaced Technology / Tech / Technik with Engineering, both in German and English – a choice that comes with other side effects. There does not seem to be a literal translation for succinct Engineering in German – no modern sounding word that could indicate at the same time 1) what you study, 2) what you do, or 3) the name of department your work at. You could study different kinds of specialized engineering disciplines like Maschinenbau (Mechanical Engineering) or Elektrotechnik (Electrical Engineering) – but all of these are sub-categories of Ingenieurswesen, a term you expect to find mainly in wooden bureaucratic prose. There is an easy way out in the international world of academia global corporations: Use the English name, also ‘in German’. I think we have had departments called Engineering for a long time, maybe before EDV Abteilungen became IT Departments. The technological departments went first, then Einkauf turned Purchasing Department. Depending on when you entered the workforce, one sounds quaint or the other sounds grandiloquent. One problem with this English-tagging approach is the unintended import of secondary meanings. Just as Tech, English Engineering seems to refer much more  to software(-only) engineering than Engineering adopted by the German language, let alone anything Ingenieur-. There are job adverts for Software Engineers today, and the literal translation to Softwareingenieur feels backported. I wonder what readers expect from a menu item called Engineering, next to another called IT (or enigmatic Computing).

The more you think about your simple collection of categories, the more you push and pop through these levels of meaning, Hofstadter-Gödel-Escher-Bach-like. There is no solution to the category dilemma. From a website programmer’s perspective, if I would start again I might give categories and related hyperlinks abstract or whimsical names, following the tradition of calling servers Jupiter and Mars or meeting rooms Diamond or Granite. Terms like Engineering, Technology or IT should show up only in easy-to-change display names, hover texts and descriptions, but never in hyperlinks.

But maybe you should not try too hard to explain or repair your forever moving, forever broken, forever incomplete tagging – not to appear as a pathetic nitpicker. Do you remember these – boring – early corporate intranet projects revolving about taxonomies?

Rather turn your categories into a subversive art project in its own right – featuring secret passages to otherwise unreachable places in the fabric of spacetime. Somebody will take it seriously!

                                                                      ..  ,llllllllllccccclcllllllll
           TIMELESS                                             .  ... ..,llllllllllcccccllllllllllo
                                  ...................................',,:llllllllccccclllllllllllloo
    ..........................................................  ...,;:cllllllllllccccccllllllllllooo
.............................. ........  ...................... .;;,ccllllolollllllccclllllllllllloo
...................... ...',,;;::::::;;;;,''... ............   .',::lllloooolllllllccclllllllllloooo
.................. ..',;;:::cclllllllllccccccc:;,.........    .,;:::llloooooolllllcccclllllllllloooo
............... ..',;;:ccclllololol:c;:cllllllllccc;'.....   .':cccllloooooooollllcccclllllllloooooo
................,;;:ccllc;:;odddddd:::,:ddddoolloollcl:'.. ..,;:cllloooooooooollllcccclllllllooooooo
.........'....,,:ccclodddl:c;oxxxxxo,;'cxxxxxxdl:llooooll,...,:lcllooooooooooollllcccllllllllloooooo
.......'....',;:c:lddddxxxdc;;dxxxxdolcoxxxxxxlcdddoloodoll,..:llloooooooooooolllllccllllllllllooooo
... ..'....',:::;:coddxxxxxdxxxkkkkkkxkkxxxxxllxxxxxddloddooc..':cooooooooooooollllccllllllllllooooo
     '....',::cooolccccoxxxkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkxxxxxxxxddoloddol'..coooooooooooooolllccclllllllloooood
    ......,::coddddddoldxxxxkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkxxxdlc:;;coddol,..looooooooooooollcc:ccllllllooooood
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    .,dNNKOo,..;:::dxxxxkkxclxkkOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOkOOkkkkdlc;ccol:'.......................,oodddddxxxxx
    .,:KNNX0l:'.';:ldxxxxl;,:;xkkkOkkkkkOOOOOOkcdkkkkkkxxolol:....:odxxdddoollcc::;.'';,coddddxxxxxk
     .,lNWNOlc:;'.';:loo:;;l:lkkkkkkd;c:kOOOOOOxoldkkkxdoll:,....;dxxxxxxxxxxxddddd:;;:,:oddxxxxxkkk
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 ...'''''''....   'lOK0xl:;,''........',,,,,;,,,;;:codkkkOOkkkkkOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOkOOOOOOOOO0000
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                  .........'',coddddooldddxxkkkOOOOOkOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO0OOO0OOOOOOOO0000000000
            .....'''..        ;oddxxxxxkkkkkkkOOOOOOkOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO0000000000OO0O0000000000000

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