Moving Mountains to Overcome Cultural Stasis

Querty VS Dvorak
Querty VS Dvorak

Keyboard layoutsThe Metric SystemBase number systemsWhere to sneeze… I’ve been wrestling with a lot of obsolete cultural artifacts in the last few weeks. All of these subjects are examples of society adhering to overly-complex, inefficient, or just plain wrong cultural standards.

We make life complicated for a our children because it was complicated for us. We invested the time and effort into learning Imperial Measurements, QWERTY, and the two-party political system; so rather than adapt to a simpler, intuitive system at some midpoint in life, we force the younger generations to adopt our stupidity.

In a bit of conceptual synchronicity, I stumbled across an Isaac Asimov article from 1982, “A Question of Spelling,” this week, where he blames America’s high illiteracy rates on the absurdity of the English language’s spelling and grammar. The fact that the words “‘through,’ ‘coo,’ ‘do,’ ‘true,’ ‘knew,’ and ‘queue’” all rhyme, and can be written phonetically as “‘throo,’ ‘koo,’ ‘doo,’ ‘troo,’ ‘nyoo,’ and ‘kyoo’” is pretty damning evidence against the nonsensical, haphazard complete lack of architecture behind our system for spelling.

“i” before “e” except after “c.” With the exceptions: caffeine, casein, codeine, phenolphthalein, phthalein, protein, ancied, policies, conscience, prescient, ancient, efficiency, deindustrialize, reignite, being, seeing, swingeing

…and SCIENCE. Why are so many Americans illiterate? Because the English language sucks ass.

One of the most convincing arguments I’ve heard for why English will become the dominant world language is that Westerners are incapable or unwilling to learn another language. We’re lazy, we buy the most useless crap, and if anyone wants us to buy from them, they better speak our language. This is the sad reality of cultural norms: our lowest common denominators define them.

Don’t believe it? Go channel surf the non-cable channels for fifteen minutes and come back here. Now we’re on the same wavelength.

Society has a mini reboot switch built into it that prevents it from total stagnation: death and birth. New generations adapt completely to their environment, while the older, inflexible generations die and make room for growth; thus, civilization grows and matures. A civilization who’s members never die would itself croak on its obsolescence.

Things will get better, but first the stasis generation must relinquish control. They’ve really made a mess of things. National Debt, War, ridiculous social policies… but what could we expect from people who can’t program a VCR? There’s light at the end of the tunnel though, the First Baby Boomer filed for Social Security recently. Now we just need to herd the rest of them off to the old folks home (Sorry Mom and Dad).

The Baby Boomers are a wash, but there’s no reason Generation X can’t take up the cause of changing at least a few cultural standards. We lived through the cultural shock of migrating into the Information Age after all. Information Technology’s mercurial nature creates standards that are a moving target. We in the IT world (ie. “Your Betters”), must constantly adapt to new coding standards, new technologies, and new innovations. We know how to adapt.

It’s true the Millenials were born into a world of perpetual, fluidity. To them, change is the norm. As progress accelerates, future generations will become more adaptable. There’s hope for Dvorak, Metric, and Independent Political Parties.

In the meantime, Gen-Xers should prove that old dogs can learn new tricks. Let’s start with something simple, lazy, and true to our rebellious reputation.

Lik spelling theengs fonetically!

“A Question of Spelling,” Isaac Asimov, appeared in Popular Computing, June 1982.






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