Our culture of no context

I’ve concentrated my professional life around businesses that make creativity their centerpiece. In my case, I stay close to The Arts. I’ve worked in the cultures of literature, design and fashion. Sadly, I neglected including music. There just doesn’t seem to be the demand for Bavarian Volksmusic there once was. It’s a shame, too. I’m actually pretty good at the Oompah-pahs.

One of the skills I acquired along the way was graphic design. It’s important to note that being a graphic designer is not the same thing as being a graphic artist. Many people get them muddled up. When introducing myself, I usually solve the confusion with this example:

“Oh, you’re a graphic artist,” they say. “How cool!”

“No, I’m a graphic designer.”

“There’s a difference?”

“If you owned a horse farm,” I’d say, “I could make you one awesome catalog to help you sell your livestock, but whatever you do, don’t ask me to draw that horse.”

I still dabble as a graphic designer, usually for friends. I seldom charge my friends. One of the reasons I got out of the business was because I seemed to have more friends than customers.

I make it a point to keep my design software up-to-date, even though my skills really aren’t.

From time to time, the software company treats us to new features when they make upgrades to their program. The company promotes these improvements in a series of bullet points that catch our attention. This time, new ones are introduced for 2022.

Bullet point No. 1 touted a nice “capture” feature, which allows the user to poach layouts from other documents to speed things up. No. 2 described a new scalable user interface that should make working easier for us older designers, who often can’t see their own computers, let alone the tiny type on the screen.

No. 3 was an upgrade they call “Inclusive Terminology.” To show you how daft I am, I thought they had made improvements to the story composition editor, or even the font management tools. Nope. It seems that the company is, well . . . let me put it in their own words:

“We have replaced non-inclusive terminology to support core [company] values of diversity and inclusion.”

At no time using their software to create designs did I feel insulted, nor do I believe I was insulting, disrespecting or disparaging to anyone else –– unless you are British, and caught the one time I accidentally used an obscure curse word on a brochure I made for a floor covering company.

If they are making word changes to their User Manuals or their Licensing Agreement, go for it. No one reads those anyway. However, changes are coming to the program itself.

The foundation of their application is currently called the “Master” page. From it, the designer can build an entire publication quite easily. In 2022, the Master page will now be called the “Parent” page.

Before we go further, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I get it. It took me awhile to see it, but I really do get it.

My question is, though, how far are we willing to deconstruct the English language before we can find words that don’t offend anyone? Are parents now outraged that they are held in the same regard as slave owners? I suppose their children might see a correlation, but it demonstrates how quickly a single word can be misconstrued without understanding the circumstances of its use.

What complicates it is that some words have multiple meanings.

I’m surprised that a company that specializes in communication has missed the value of context. There are very few words that won’t insult someone when they are removed from the conditions in which they are meant to be understood.

Will Red now be referred to as the “Democratic Socialist” color? Could the “Square” tool be dropped in favor of the “Socially Awkward” tool? And will “Utilities” end up as “They / Themtilities”.

OK, I know I’m way over the top, here. The satire is intentional; mockery is not.

My point is that if you want a more encompassing, relevant society, don’t start by making it more difficult for people to communicate with each other. The time will come when many of us will be afraid to open our mouths, while others will find it impossible to keep theirs closed.

We may be there now.

One of my favorite tools in this graphic design program is the “Shear” tool. With it you can push one corner of any rectangle, and automatically create a rhombus. Don’t worry, designers. It’s not gong away soon.

For 2022, however, its name is being updated to shear nonsense.

John O. Marlowe is an award-winning columnist for Sagamore News Media.