Deciphering Nonsense

We re-booters recognize that there is a lot of folderol to which we are subject on a daily basis—whether it originates from Capitol Hill or not. What I want to know is who in their endless wisdom decided to bypass language in favor of “internationally recognized laundry symbols” that you can’t interpret? What does it say about our society where a language nobody understands is deemed the international method of communication? Decoding the preliterate messages of the Lascaux Caves or Egyptian hieroglyphs is a far easier task than doing laundry in the 21st Century. Take a look at the tag on any of your recent purchases and see if you have a clue as to what these care instructions require. Tell me, what is it about the following icons that convey anything meaningful?

Rather than telling us, say, that the jacket shouldn’t be dry cleaned or subject to a process without steam, we get what you see above. Now, when faced with such useless guidance, a couple of things occur to me: everyone else is on this secret code but me; if they’ve printed this on the tag, it must be obvious as to connotation; or how can there be so much nuance for cleaning a shirt? At this point in the process, I simply determine whether or not I dare risk throwing the item in the washer and go for it.

It’s sort of like those tattoos people get with Chinese characters when they have no idea what message has actually been inked onto their skin.

There are numerous languages we have to learn over the course of our lifetime: alphabets, social and moral codes, traffic signals, you name it, there’s probably a code attached to it and some of them are as perplexing as the laundry symbols cited above. People come equipped with a wide range of abilities when it comes to detecting and deciphering codes—some have almost no clue whatsoever (and fyi, they prefer it that way), while others (like me) have trained themselves to be highly adept at recognizing codes—I label this group “scanners” because our radar is continually on.

Both of these approaches have strengths and drawbacks. By nature, I’m quite attuned to the presence of codes, but I also had to cultivate this skill out of sheer necessity. Growing up, there were obvious (as well as hidden) unspoken languages that drove so much of the dynamics in my world that I had to learn to identify and understand them in order to survive. This ability to decipher unwritten and unspoken messages is probably one of my greatest skills—except when I use the wrong dictionary. We re-booters have learned that what one person means by silence or a wry grin can be very different from someone else. If anything, we can be overly attuned to the world around us which sets the stage for serious problems of its own making: reading more into people’s behavior than is merited, dwelling on the long term consequences of actions way before we can be sure things will unfold as we predict, that sort of thing.

At the other end of this spectrum, the group which opts for a relatively clueless existence (and I have close, personal acquaintance with such specimens) have a much “happier” experience because they aren’t continually on guard for signs of change, but I contend that such a status is akin to blindness and can result in much unhappy surprise further down the road. I have recently come to conclude that this approach also serves as a control mechanism of sorts because the Clueless Wonder can claim to be “shocked” or stunned and totally unprepared for the situation they now find themselves in. They claim they had no idea that such a thing was coming—really? I dispute this; I contend that we almost always have access to clues, should we choose to see them. There’s almost nothing I can think of that is worse than an unhappy surprise, but I recognize that many might disagree. What do you think?

Where do you rank yourself in terms of scanner versus clueless? Does it depend on the context? Where might you rank those close to you? Why do you think they are where they are? How did you get to the point on the spectrum you’ve identified for yourself?

It’s not that one group’s approach is vastly superior to the other, but being able to pick up the signs—even if we can’t fully decipher them—tells us that something is going on, something we need to consider.

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2 Responses to “Deciphering Nonsense”

  1. Kaaren Robertson Says:

    Wonderful post! I’m a scanner, too. Thanks. xx

  2. Grasshopper Says:

    great blog! I’m a scanner too! 🙂

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