March 4, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Process this

By |2018-03-21T19:49:23+01:00April 10th, 2016|Area 51|
Man and machine, or the other way round?

n stormy days I stalk and insult words and expressions I consider alien invaders. I work up lather. I get my dander up. I champion Jurassic speech for the love of dinosaurs. Last time around I found “multiple” alone in an alley and dressed it down on behalf of “many,” and the many forms of many that have been summarily punted out from English usage. We saw many men; we tried many times; we made a number of efforts; we attempted on various occasions, we suffered innumerable casualties — so many little precisions assassinated at night by the insidiously and assiduously mechanical “multiple,” as displeasing a word-cough as exists in American English, and now global English.

But I’ve pressed the “multiple” button multiple times. Enough.

Today I’m out foraging for “process.” My dander is as up as it gets. Why?

Here’s why. Humans, in speech, no longer “think,” “reflect,” “ponder,” “ruminate” — all lovely and thoughtful and keen words for the joy that is thought. Instead they “process.” They are machines. They are the IBM supercomputers of the 1960s forwarded into a century that depends on computers. Machine processing is an dully electric arrangement that consisted of sifting through data to reach a probable conclusion. Processing was differentiated as surrogate to human thought and expression, hence the word.

Now, however, data-speak — processing its lynchpin — lords over verbal culture, producing the kind of imprecisely ugly effect epitomized by “multiple” (yet another child of computation).

When we hear a great deal at once or suddenly see amazing things; when we’re excited or troubled or learn about that which we’d prefer not to know, surrogation hits a wall: like a machine, we must “process” it. “I need some time to process what you just said…”

Why not “consider?” Why not “think about?” Why not “reflect on?” The answer is that “to process” sounds nervy, “verby,” cool and savvy. We’re the machines of our time, tuned to the crackle and pop of shared if hasty cue cards. This processing — of intellect, of emotion, of personal poetry — runs roughshod over the complications of the “thought process,” with the word “thought” fundamentally intended to humanize all reflection.

What next? Will we need to carburize “affect” to get to love? Will “multiple feelings” about someone require suitable “processing” before anyone gets to, “I love you.”

Will the joyous computer that is not a computer — the human mind and the language it creates — be enslaved by the jargon of the incompletely intelligent machines it makes? Science fiction predicted such a shift decades ago, but only now, gradually, is the prediction manifest in the day-to-day, transforming oral and written speech into humdrum sprawl of non-specific utterances. And the non-specific tyrannizes shading. The subtle sinks. Why say “five” when when “multiple” will do? Why “reflect,” “think,” “wonder,” “ponder,” “mull over,” “consider,” when “process” lazily fits all?

Language is flux. Flux is richness, or can be. But I’ll be continuing my stormy day Jurassic prowling, particularly as multiple and process — emissaries of algorithmic oration — intensify their bullying, because thought, and not process, tells me more than one effort will be required to take on the beast and its snarling multiples.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.