Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Gategate

Every time there is a scandal some wag asks why we use "-gate" as a suffix for scandals. These people know why. They know all about the earlier scandal and/or hotel. They just want to be clever and point out that it's a nonsensical thing that has nothing to do with actual gates.

Well: why do we still say "pants" when people haven't worn pantaloons for centuries? Why do we use "stuff" when talking about things that aren't fabric? Why do we use any word? Because there is a communal understanding about what this particular set of lines or audio pattern "means" that goes beyond its literal or even etymological origins in as little as a few decades of its being coined. Almost as though language is a continually evolving shared delusion, or something.

In any case, if you're going to have a suffix that quickly and easily illustrates a moment when something is metaphorically swung open to reveal hidden truths to the public, you could do worse than "gate". It evokes floodgates, sluice gates, prison gates. Really, we should be grateful that somebody's choice of hotel gave us such a meaningful appellation.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Seek! Locate! Exterminate!

On August 8th Google officially retired Latitude, and it has been largely unlamented. Probably the main issue was that it wasn't sure what it wanted to be. At times it seemed like a check-in tool in the style of Foursquare (man, is that still running?), with points awards and a leaderboard. At other times it was more like a way of just letting your friends know exactly where you were at any given moment. Most of the time it just seemed sort of pointless.

I tend to imagine this confusion came about because Google were just really excited about the fun possibilities of location-aware devices and rushed in without really thinking about what the point would be, but it's entirely possible they just wanted to track your movements and came up with some half-hearted window dressing to con you into willingly consenting being monitored.