why you shouldn’t coin buzzwords in trippy op-eds

February 2, 2013

vintage social media

Computer scientist David Gelernter wants you to know that the age of search engines and most of the web as we know it is coming to an end. Soon, we’ll be able to filter out search results with custom settings, look at what happened in the news or to our friends in the past, and have new updates ready on demand, forming a constant stream of relevant, indexed data for our use. It’s probably just me, but why do these predictions sound so familiar? Oh yeah, because Gelernter just described Google advanced search and Facebook’s Timeline and called it "timestream" in a transparent or downright naive effort to make it sound as if he wasn’t ripping off Facbook’s now two year old concept. Not only that, but his entire op-ed is so trippy, larded with buzzwords, and dense with jargon he invents at the spur of the moment, complete with a photo of a very esoteric schematic on the back of a napkin, that it takes two or three passes through the whole thing for you to understand what he’s actually saying. The whole effort just comes off as ridiculous.

Gelernter’s primary claim to fame is that he contributed to an obscure part of parallel computing which deals with how objects are accessed when you’re… oh forget it. Unless you’re doing chip architecture or writing compilers, it probably won’t matter much to you. His second claim to fame is that he survived an attack by the Unabomber. From there on in, his list of accomplishments is more tenuous He claims to have foreseen the world wide web, but considering that some ideas of it have been around since ARPANET went public, that’s not really that huge of a feat. His day to day work today consists of writing partisan op-eds in neoconservative publications, declaring all higher education to be a failure because Obama was elected and advocating homeschooling as the only viable education option, decrying that liberal intellectuals are destroying America with zero elaboration as to how, and advising the Lifeboat Foundation, a group of transhumanists in search of a way to save the Earth through technology. In the interests of full disclosure I should mention that I was once offered a spot on their advisory board. I declined.

Ok, so Gelernter is now a pundit. Why is he trying to repackage Timeline as his brainchild? You see, he’s trying to launch a venture based around "lifestreaming" which, again, is basically very much like jamming your favorite RSS feeds into Timeline. And for that, he’s taking to a new trend in tech circles. Much like non-fiction authors write articles summarizing the thesis of their books, aspiring techies are writing op-eds about the Next Big Thing, hinting that they’re ahead of those trying to do the same thing, ideally summarizing their approach into a strained new buzzword like "long data" or "timestreaming" with the hope that they’ll be noticed by someone who would want to fund their efforts or at least introduce them to someone who might be interested. It’s a rather common marketing technique for many tech savvy companies and it does attract eyeballs, but if you really dig under 99% of these op-eds, you see nothing new or exciting. Just your standard issue buzzword salad. Though in Gelernter’s case, it’s trippy enough to be entertaining, despite the sad fact that it’s being written by someone who should really know better.

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