I must apologise in advance. The latter half of this article may appear unnecessarily grouchy. Especially, because this has been one of the friendliest weeks yet to be Irish. But it’s futile to write too much about the European Championships definitively, since publishing deadlines dictate that I will not know the result of last night’s game against Spain.
By now it will be abundantly clear whether the Irish football team is, like most of the rest of the population – rapidly running out of ‘the Euros’ or whether we are surfing on the crest of a happy wave. George Hamilton’s final words of commentary could have ranged from “DON QUIXOTE!, FERDINAND AND ISABELLA! PABLO PICASSO! GENERAL FRANCO! YOUR BOYS TOOK A HELL OF A BEATING” all the way down to “And you have to feel sorry for Shay Given. Torres’ shot looked to be going out for a throw before that unfortunate deflection off a dog, coupled with the mini-cyclone, carried it over the keeper’s head and into the net. A sad way to finish a match. The double-digit scoreline perhaps flattering to the Spaniards. “
Obviously, I hope it’s the former. If for nothing else, the almost professional level to which our fans have taken football-related silliness and friendliness has generated enough material for about three episodes of Reeling In The Years. So far we have had: flags that say “Angela Merkel Thinks We’re At Work” and “Sharon Curley’s Pregnant”; the ‘likely lad’ from Sallins saying thanks for the mammaries (although that will probably be left out of the final RITY edit); a variety of surreal interactions with riot police involving Father Ted quotes and press-ups, Irish fans singing “You’ll never beat the Croats” in Poznan; the fan in the cowboy hat and boa finding himself in the middle of a Polish Anarchy march. All of this generated such a huge wave of bonhomie and good humour which must at least counteract the damage done by the serried ranks of the hooliganovskicics.
The ‘friendly Irish’ can be a bit of a cliché but the word cliché itself comes from the French for “I know..but all the same though”. We are a friendly open race. It doesn’t take use long to establish an easy familiarity with strangers.
But this is familiarity between human beings. When it comes from a computer, familiarity, for this Irishman at least, breeds contempt.
The over-chummy nature of computer-based messages has been getting on my wick for some time now but the latest message has completely helped itself to the biscuits. I was searching for a typeface on the Internet using one of Google’s new searchy thingies. It couldn’t find what I was looking for and sent back the following message: “Bummer! There are no search results that match.”
Excuse me? Bummer? To the best of my knowledge I don’t remember asking Google to talk to me as if I was on Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. I didn’t say “Dude! Wassup! You think maybe you could hit me up with some results, yo”. I felt disproportionately affronted that this automated response should presume to know me well enough to be so informal. I would have at least preferred “Our humblest apologies Sir….”
This is not the only example. All over the internet, companies seem to be programming cloyingly forced familiarity into their interactions with us.
When I register on some websites and then log in again, I’ll see a message saying “Howdy Colm, welcome back!” Don’t ‘Howdy’ me. You’re just a piece of aluminium coated in some sort of magnetic substance in a server farm located in a country where the climate makes it economically viable to keep the machines at constant temperature. You are not my friend. I bet you say that to everyone.
Other applications want to convince us they experience emotion. When something goes wrong on the Firefox Internet browser, it displays a message saying “Well this is embarrassing”. Really, is it? Embarrassing is finding out you’ve inadvertently stumbled into the women’s toilets. Until the Firefox Internet Browser gets three sheets to the wind, misreads the icon on a door in a pub and then endures a tirade of abuse as it escapes from a cubicle, it will never know true embarrassment.
Facebook and Twitter both say “Ooops!” when the unexpected happens as if they are a sparrow-like adorable old aunt who has forgotten you don’t take sugar.
I know what they’re up to of course. It’s all about making the Internet ‘familiar and friendly’. It’s about ‘tailoring the browsing experience’ and it’s part of a general trend towards making the faceless seem human. You hear it from the call-centres where they seem obsessed with saying your name. “Now Mr O’Regan, just to let you know that for training purposes I will be repeating your name throughout this phone-call, in case you forget who you are.”
It was the Microsoft paper-clip – who first appeared as I was trying to write a letter – that started all of this off. Before then computers clearly didn’t give a damn about what you thought about anything. I preferred it that way. When they did – like HAL in 2001 A Space Odyssey – it was with a sense of menace.
There was no “Ooops” from the 24 Commodore 64s in secondary school on which, as a class, we struggled manfully for an hour to create a glowing green rectangle on the black screen, put it on a floppy disk the size of a frisby and then watch the whole thing fail for no reason. There was no “Well this is embarrassing” as in the ensuing confusion a pump malfunctioned and somewhere a tap turned itself on. Computers in those days were like bouncers. You were the tired and emotional punter swaying glassy-eyed in front of them pleading to continue. They remained impassive saying “I don’t have to give you a reason. You’re not going into that file and that’s that”.
It’s a bit churlish to complain too much of course. The self-same Internet allows me to access YouTube (“We could not find the video you were looking for, sorry about that”) to watch former Irish legend, Kevin Kilbane sing Vanilla Ice in a pub in Gdansk (look that one up).
Maybe the Internet is my friend after all.