I love you too [template]

I’ve often discussed with students what the worst thing ever is. Not as in actually the worst things ever, like disease and death and man’s inhumanity to man; they don’t count. The worst thing ever as in eating a biscuit slowly, bit by bit, and really looking forward to the last mouthful, and looking for it initially with delighted anticipation and then baffled frustration and finally the beginnings of the crushing realisation that you’ve eaten it already and forgotten. Which is certainly one of the worst things ever.

The executive breakfast lounge

Image: the executive breakfast lounge (for reasons that will become clear)

It is not, however, the worst thing ever. Not any more. Because I have found out what the worst thing ever actually is – and who is responsible for this horror. It turns out that the perpetrator has been with me for months; has been a reliable (mostly) and certainly useful companion; has frequently been annoying, but never terminally so; and yet this whole time has been harbouring below its placid surface an act of egregion (I know, but I like it, so the word stays) so stunning in design, conception and execution that for one brief moment I almost admired it before the nauseating disgust came rushing in.

The culprit is my mobile phone. Yours too, for all I know. You see, on my mobile phone I discovered the other day a folder tucked away in the text messaging area. It was called ‘Templates’. Idly I opened it. Inside were 11 pre-written messages: communication helpfully pre-fabricated for the busy executive or terminally thumb-idle by the Finnish geniuses at Nokia.

At this stage I was merely struck by the futility of the exercise. The folder is sufficiently buried beneath sub-folders that to find it, browse through the messages, and select the one most apposite to your needs would take longer than to simply use the comms device inside your skull to instruct the digits on your hands to create the same digital content (but personal to you).

Anyway, the discovery of baffling futility was no real surprise: many things connected to mobile phones are baffling and futile. I read through the messages, enjoying the sub-middle-manager tone they all seemed to adopt. ‘I’m in a meeting, call me later’ was fairly reflective of the general content. It was as if Nokia had imagined a world populated by the consumers of Fry and Laurie’s executive breakfast – if you haven’t seen it, you have a treat awaiting you.

I don’t know why Nokia thinks the world works this way. Maybe in Finland it does. Actually, who am I kidding: maybe it works that way in every sales outlet and business conference and City office and boardroom around the globe. I wouldn’t know. This is a world I only ever see through the distorted lens of The Apprentice (little known fact: Alan Sugar’s boardroom in that show has no ceiling. Straight up.).

So perhaps for the fast-paced 110%-committed business human this kind of communication – ie language broken up into bleak little snippets of utility written for you by someone else – is the norm. If so, then commercial denizens of the world, unite, is all I can say. Rise up against the fascist text message orthodoxy! Send the boss a smiley and a picture of your bum from the most foolish vacation of your youth!

And that would really have been that, were it not for pre-prepared template number nine out of 11. The worst thing ever. The template read, and I quote verbatim, ‘I love you too.’

A pause to allow the horror to sink in.

All right. I love you too. Let’s think about that for one moment. Consider, if you will, two possibilities. A young man’s girlfriend has just told him, for the first time, and by text, that she loves him. Loves, remember. It is not a small word to use. What does this young man do? Does he throw the phone in the air, run to the railway station, catch the first train to Helsinki (where, you see, she lives), arrive at her house unexpectedly clutching champagne and irises, shout up at the windows that he loves her too until she opens the door giggling, whereupon he repeats the phrase brokenly while ravishing her in the hallway? No. Instead, either he knows that Nokia have installed the correct response in advance, or he is lost for ideas and browses, and he discovers this message. Oh, he thinks. I see. Nice. That’ll do it. Add, if she is lucky, a kiss, and send. Job done.

The other possibility. A woman, married, to a doting partner. Said partner texts, as he often does, that he loves her. Remember, it is still love we’re talking about. Actual love, possibly the finest aspect of the whole being-alive-experience. And she is so jaded, so weary, so hideously scarred by the brutality of her existence that instead of typing out the same words by herself, or even replacing them with a snippet inspired by the moment such as, ‘Me too, tiger. Thinking of you and whipped cream again’ she sighs, opens up the templates, scrolls, selects, sends, and gets back to her Very Important Job of extracting the dreams of children, grinding them up and feeding them as the gruel of regret to the occupants of carehomes.

All right: I know there are other possibilities. I know there are people out there who may have found this handy. But contemplating the long chain of events that brought this template into my mobile phone: the software guy who tapped a pen against his teeth as he pondered which phrases people might need to use in a hurry; the people at the meeting who signed off on the idea; the other software guy who read it, thought fair enough, and coded it into a million phones; the consumers who bought these phones, found the message, and instead of instantly doing the reasonable thing and setting fire to the phone, the shop they bought it from and quite possibly themselves, instead nodded and thought, that might come in handy one day; the presumably hundreds of people who followed through on that impulse and actually used the template, and the poor saps who received the message and were gladdened in ignorance of the process by which those four poor, overused but nevertheless vitally important signifiers of all that is good about humanity actually came into being – the idea of communication and language so humbled – it all just defeated me, for a moment.

I blogged a while ago about predictive text. My God, I knew nothing. Predictive emotions, eh? That really does take the (unfortunately wholly eaten) biscuit…

4 Responses to I love you too [template]

  • Joanna says:

    Perhaps the following can shed some light – it’s something I picked up second-hand, but it sounds like the author is on Nokia’s case…
    ‘Grammar is a gentle, sweet song’ is a short novel by Erik Orsenna. It is even more beautiful in the original French. We learn that when you handle words roughly, they bruise. And when you cut them, they bleed. On a magical island somewhere there is a hospital where they go to be saved. If they can be.
    For the doctors today are so very worried about ‘I love you’, three little words now lying so still on the bed, practically worn away by misuse. At the end of this day will any shred of real meaning remain? Read from chapter XIII in the book.
    Perhaps you know the book?

  • It’s horrifying, yes! Really, if you mean it you can find a minute to write it! Automatic romance. Petrol station flowers…

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