Daily Archives: May 19, 2012

wrench

I am taking a couple of weeks off and am happy to present tastings by some of the avid word tasters who regularly read my word tasting notes. Today’s tasting is by Duane Aubin.

Recently I talked about language as a powerful marketing tool. Yesterday I was reminded of the idea.

My Treo 680’s microphone stopped working a few weeks ago, for some unknown reason. I went to Craigslist to find a replacement for it, and there were no 680s to be had. My boss pulled an old BlackBerry out of a desk drawer, I snapped in my SIM card and, after our IT guy worked his magic, I was up and running on a BlackBerry.

The transition has been interesting. Initially, I might have wanted to appreciate how the keys on this Bold 9700 are angled so that the left side can be more easily pushed with the left thumb while the right side can be more easily pushed by the right thumb. However, it’s actually annoying because, to type more quickly with only two fingers, sometimes I need to push a key on the opposite side with the opposite thumb (such as when I click shift to get a capital, it’s faster to click shift with the left thumb and the letter T with the right thumb right afterwards, as opposed to using the left thumb in sequence), and these keys make that harder. Palm’s physical keyboard still trumps anything else out there. Progress? Bah! Humbug. It’s not hard to understand the Palm die-hard.

Anyway, while getting help to do something from colleague, he directed me to “go to the wrench.” In other GUI metaphors, one may be told to “Go to Options” or “Settings” or “Preferences;” in the BlackBerry world, stuff gets tweaked and adjusted using “the wrench”.

It was in the manner he said it that reminded me of the recent conversation about language in marketing. He said it as though I should know what in the world he’s talking about. He didn’t say “you’re new to BlackBerry aren’t you? Okay, to adjust settings/options/preferences, look for the wrench.” He just said it, matter-of-factly, and he expected me to keep up. Having already spent a goodly amount of time trackpadding around in the BlackBerry menu to orient myself to this strange new world, I was able to stick with the tour in real-time, for I am now a BlackBerry user (for the time being, that is), and am “speaking BlackBerry”.

Truth be told, when I highlight the wrench with the trackpad, the label that comes up is “Options” but, evidently, while formal BlackBerrese may recognize Options, the commoners on the corner colloquially refer to “the wrench.”

And, then I digressed. Why not just go with the more common terms – “settings,” “options” or “preferences”? In fact, why are there three terms at all (granted, “preferences” is a different idea than the more synonymous “settings/options”).

And, we’re back to language. Funny thing is, I find the “wrench” to imply the worst idea among them.

“Settings” comes across as cut and dried, dichotomous with no nuance. “Set it” left or right, on or off, up or down. I imagine a control panel of switches.

“Options” is the ego-stroking “user empowerment” term, proverb “hey user, this can work any way you want, you have options, and you can make choices.” Of course, this can be frustrating when the façade of empowerment crumbles in the reality of narrow limitations on what can be done.

“Preferences” goes a misleading step further to suggest that something may work more than one way, depending on what the user prefers. This may be true of themes, or what the left or right side buttons do; but may be less true when setting a VPN. And, there are some things that simply do not work to my preferences at all.

Which brings us to “wrench,” immediately conjuring the sound of a ratchet and the image of a mechanic cranking, cranking, cranking, but not using a torque wrench that tells the mechanic precisely when to stop cranking. It’s the sound of the cranking done by a mechanic who just cranks until “mmm, that feels tight off, that’s about right.”

Wrench, in its verb form, connotes a struggle, the exertion of effort against resistance, an imposing of will over that of another. It also carries a sense of violence, of forcefully moving something that otherwise had no interest or complicity or cooperation. And, remarkably, that’s how I’d describe using this BlackBerry.

On their own, PDAs don’t tell time very well. The clock on my Treo, now devoid of a SIM card, is well off. However, when it was set (no shade of interpretation, it was definitively distinctly turned on) to use network time, it stayed on time, all the time (which was necessary to support all the calendar and to-do reminders).

This BlackBerry has what it calls “device time” and “network time,” and ne’er the twain will meet. Even though I’ve opted for the device to “always” use network time, the device time is always some ten minutes off, and it’s gut-wrenching.

Ten minutes? For a device geared for business users? Arrive ten minutes late to a meeting. Or ten minutes late at the airport to catch a flight. Or ten minutes late for a pitch at a client’s office. Or ten minutes late for an interview. Or ten minutes late for… you get the idea. In the business world, that’s an enormous, unacceptable time discrepancy.

So, I keep going back to the wrench to make sure the option I exercised “took;” that the setting I set didn’t get unset… I keep wrenching and cranking and struggling,  hoping that, the longer I exert effort, the closer I might get to what I really want. After all, it is my PDA, my personal digital assistant — it’s supposed to assist me by doing what I say, the way I personally prefer it to be done.

Thus does language also emerge as too precise a burden on the vagaries of reality, a lofty standard far above what may be reasonably expected in the real world. This thing is not being very helpful to me.

Or, maybe that’s part of why BlackBerry’s stock has tanked. Others have found the struggle too much to bear?

One fine day, I will move on to a smarter smartphone.

And, as for this stop-gap BlackBerry? I’ll take a wrench to it.