Rumination 70: From an [INSERT HERE] Perspective

More and more these days, I hear people using a very specific kind of phrase as they begin to offer their own opinion or take on an issue. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it is what I am now dubbing the ‘perspective-driven dependent clause’. The examples below are just some of the vague, perspective-driven dependent clauses that I have heard uttered by real people online and in person.

From a tech perspective…

From a stakeholder perspective…

From a learning perspective…

From a user-experience perspective…

From a global perspective…

From a timing perspective…

What do these actually mean? Of course, I’ve only included a select few in the list; you could replace any of the modifiers before ‘perspective’ with another word to create your own version.

From a linguistic perspective, it is useless to rail against changes in communication. New expressions, definitions, pronunciations and views on correct usage are natural. We would not have different languages and dialects without such constant iteration, creativity and error.

From a critical perspective, however, it becomes frustrating to hear others’ incessant use of the same kind of dependent clause to open sentences, particularly when what is spoken doesn’t really make any sense. It’s simply a fashionable and somewhat professional-sounding way of speaking, so everyone is mindlessly jumping on board. Take the last example above in italics: ’From a timing perspective…’. Can timing even have a perspective? Is timing a sentient being with eyes or its own mental processes and experiences, from which it can offer its own view at all or perceive three-dimensional space as we do? If it isn’t a sentient being, then what makes the perspective of timing so unique as to call it out?

From a research perspective, let’s look at a few alternatives to this kind of opening dependent clause.

With regard to timing…

On the topic of timing…

Speaking of timing…

Considering the importance of timing…

From a retrospective perspective, do you see how easy it was to find other ways to say it? We have not even explored the possibility of using a synonym for ‘timing’!

From a result-oriented perspective, my recommendation is simple: it is fine to use the word ‘perspective’, of course, but try to use it when referring to someone’s actual view on something; otherwise, mix up your use of language to avoid submitting to groupthink. Here’s an even more extreme idea: drop such an opening altogether! Just say what you have to say.

From a social perspective, you may start to make more sense and stand out with your varied vocabulary.

Rumination 69: It’s All Leek to Me

Continuing the retail-focused theme for rumination this week—let’s face it, I overthink a lot stuff at the shops—Natasha and I made a quick trip to Aldi on the weekend, after we had visited Coles and Country Grocer, where we buy our fruit and veggies.

I’ve long been a fan of the Aldi checkout experience, as they approach bagging with ruthless German efficiency. Yes, say ‘hello’ and be polite, but don’t linger for too long or expect someone to pack your bags for you. Not to mention, if things get really busy, they very quickly open another checkout lane to deal with the crowds, then close it when everyone has been addressed. They mean business.

As Natasha and I visit three different supermarkets in the one centre each week, we always display the printed receipts on top of the relevant bags in our trolley, just to show that we’re not dishonest or hardened grocery thieves. This time at Aldi, as the staff member behind the space-age, anti-COVID-19 super-sneezeguard finished scanning all of our items, she turned to me and said, ‘May I see your receipts for those other groceries, please?’. Natasha and I instantly flashed the two pieces of paper in her face.

She then continued, ‘Oh wow, that was quick, you must be used to doing that!’. After running her eyes over the receipts, she said, ‘Ah OK, there they are! Those leeks in your trolley look a lot like the ones that we have here’. We subsequently completed the transaction, said ‘thanks’ and left the shop.

As we walked through the centre to reach the car park, Natasha and I discussed this comment about similar-looking leeks, feeling somewhat baffled. There was no packaging or labelling on the leeks that we purchased so that certainly was not the reason for leek-theft suspicion. She must have thought that the leeks themselves looked the same.

Following this, we wondered, ‘How much variation could there possibly be between leek varieties at Australian supermarket retailers?’. Indeed, the leeks did look the same, as they are leeks! We had also purchased capsicums, mushrooms, apples, oranges and other fruit and veggies at Country Grocer before arriving at Aldi and I can tell you, having walked past the equivalent products at our final food destination, they all looked the same too.

Perhaps the next time that we visit Aldi, if I see the same person, I may have to strike up a conversation about the aesthetic similarities between varieties of this edible, elongated cylindrical bulb within the genus Allium—to which the beloved onion also belongs. Furthermore, we may even have to conduct a detailed analysis of said leeks, to measure the extent to which the vegetable’s flat leaf-sheaths overlap each other, when compared to samples from competing retailers. To conclude, depending on the enthusiasm of the Aldi staff member and their willingness to waste (undoubtedly measured) time at the checkout, we could even explore the history of this vegetable and its noble status as the Welsh national emblem.

Until then, it’s all leek to me.

Rumination 68: Beware the Bagging Area!

My last rumination was inspired by a trip to the shops and so is today’s. (To be honest, my next one will also refer to a recent shopping experience.) In general, shopping centres and supermarkets offer wonderful opportunities to observe the weirdness of society.

During our most recent trip to do buy groceries, we were forced to use the self-checkout machine at Coles, as a number of lanes with humans were closed due to social-distancing measures. Those that were open had long lines. Typically, I avoid using these contraptions because I find them to be slow, unreliable and an example of automation that does very little to help anybody, particularly those who would otherwise have a job in the exact same space if it weren’t for that machine.

This most recent experience confirmed for me why I do not use them. Although we followed the recommended bagging procedure, the machine froze after only one item had been scanned; we required a staff member to unlock it for us. I took the photo below in immediate frustration, with the intention of writing this piece.

The funny thing is that this occurred three more times after I took this photo. With each freezing of the machine, we had to wait like fools for the same staff member, who was responsible for all the other befuddled customers in the same area who were experiencing the same problem.

We wasted so much time at this checkout and watched others struggle. It leaves me wondering what the actual benefit of these machines could be, other than profit (due to not paying people). It certainly couldn’t be saved time and with the increased likelihood of shoplifting, that makes it even more confusing.

The next time that you visit a supermarket, if such machines are available and you can avoid using them, do exactly that to send the organisation responsible a message. The less that we use them, the better.

Rumination 67: Tailor-made Absorbency

Whenever I do the grocery shopping with Natasha, she often has to hurry me along as I spend time too much shaking my head at some of the ridiculous marketing, packaging and product installations that can be found around the supermarket. We all know that this environment is constructed to encourage us to buy stuff that we don’t need, however many people do not stop to critique some of the more ludicrous things. I make a point of doing it.

I do not have any children (yet), however for a long time I have been put off by the relentless gendering of products for young kids. This is one thing that I sometimes stop to observe. One product that stood out to me during a trip to the shops on the weekend was nappies. In this case, it was not just a matter of blue versus pink on the packaging, there was also this stupid claim:

Yes, that’s right: tailor-made absorbency is available for each sex! It’s now not enough simply to tell people which product to buy based on colour; we are supposed to believe that buying the incorrect nappy will lead to a less-than-optimum rate of absorption, which (who knows?) could lead to undesired spillage.

When I first read ‘tailor-made’, the image that came to my mind was one of a refined gentleman in a boutique, wearing a measuring tape around his shoulders, helping parents to measure up the finest disposable nappy for their new bundles of joy. This makes a huge difference for infants.

These days, we live in a world that is so saturated with products that companies are desperate to differentiate their own offerings in the most outrageous ways possible. Many things are simply a commodity, so they need that extra push. False advertising apparently is not permitted, however the definition of that term seems to have been made less clear. What does it really mean to advertise falsely today and how do we identify it? Clearly, if this sort of claim of ‘tailor-made absorbency’ is allowed, false advertising must be so blatant—such as the reporting of a completely false statistic—for it actually to be noticed. The thing that makes this claim so laughable and yet apparently not false enough to be challenged, is that it is a mass consumer product that is being sold with the message that it has been customised. No one is taking their baby to a gentleman in a boutique to make this possible.

Disappointingly, I also believe that responsibility falls on consumers in general to call this out or make a change and they’re not going to do it. Even with all of the chatter about content and messages being ‘targeted’ and ‘personalised’, you would hope that people would realise that what they see in their online feeds, on the physical supermarket shelf or in their ‘watch-next’ queue is not really personal or tailor-made at all.

Despite what many say, I believe that we continue to live in a mass culture—it’s just that we only see a sliver of that which is delivered en masse, because we’re dim enough to inform marketers of what it is that we like. It’s the same old mass culture dressed up as personal in a saturated market of fragmented options. Online, for instance, although people may see TikTok or Instagram videos that match their interests, what is it that everyone’s talking really about? It’s the networks themselves: TikTok and Instagram. This goes back to Marshall McLuhan’s classic aphorism: the medium is the message. The personal messages that we receive matter very little (if at all); it’s the medium/platform that exerts this influence and we’re all still using the same stuff. That’s mass culture and it being sold to us falsely.

Bringing it back to nappies, I would simply say this: do not buy anything that makes such a spurious claim on its packaging or description. If you do, you’ve just told the manufacturer and its marketing people that what they have done is OK. When you think that something is ‘tailor-made’ or ‘personalised’—whether on a shelf or online—and fail to see a boutique gentleman with a measuring tape, question if it really is the case.

Rumination 66: An Essential Roll

During last week’s episode of the Lounge Ruminator podcast, 17. Non-essential Formula, I spent some time discussing what it means to be ‘essential’ and indeed, ‘non-essential’. It is not only a shift in our vernacular to use these phrases, but also a shift in the way that we think about people’s value in society; this is likely to continue affecting our thoughts and behaviour in the future.

Once I had finished editing the episode, I thought that I would search for an appropriate photo to use as the featured image here on my site. In the end, I settled on the picture of a formula on a whiteboard that you see there now (through the link above), however that is not the first image that I found.

While visiting the stock-image site Pexels to find an image, I searched for the term ‘essential’ to see what would appear. I was most amused (and somewhat disturbed) by what was shown in the search results. View the results here or simply look at the interesting screenshot of the results below.

Various images of toilet paper
Humankind’s most precious resource…

That’s right: almost all the results display toilet paper, apart from some occasional images of ‘essential’ oils (hmmm…) and clothes. The images don’t display anything that’s actually essential, such as water or anything to do with air, food, shelter or necessary jobs.

Now to be clear, I have no idea if toilet paper was a major feature in the search results for the word ‘essential’ prior to the whole COVID-19 crisis, however I think that it is safe to assume that this is a more recent development.

Reflecting on my episode from last week, I was obviously mistaken when I said that words such as ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ would make us reconsider how we value people across society. Instead, I should have done an episode entirely about toilet paper—as we can see from both Pexels and panic-buying on the news—that in the year 2020, toilet paper is all that people really deem to be essential.