I’m reminded of this miserable fact on reading a recent news item in Slashdot. Now, Slashdot styles itself as ‘News for nerds, stuff that matters,” so you wouldn’t expect literati to be reading it and the standard of writing is deplorably low (though no worse than most of what you find in the IT press). However, this particular piece commented positively on the writing quality of someone’s blog and it turned out that the style being lauded was of a type I hate with a passion.
Let me quote you the item in full so you can see what I mean. It was by someone calling themselves ‘kdawson’.
‘In Bruce Sterling's final column for Wired, he summarizes the output of a survey of Net prognosticators conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The piece is peppered with Sterling's trademarked stop-you-in-your-tracks imagery. An example: "The bubble-era vision of a Utopian Internet is dented and dirty... The Lexus has collided with the olive tree, and its crumpled hulk spins in a ditch as the orchard smolders."’
I hope that you, dear reader, can see what awful drivel this quote from Sterling is. In particular, the imagery is especially bad. A ‘dented and dirty’ vision? A crumpled Lexus spinning in a ditch? (Does Stirling know what a ditch is?) Why ‘hulk’ (implying age and decay)? I get the Lexus but why an ‘olive tree’ (a weak attempt to symbolise Utopia?) and why ‘orchard’ instead of ‘grove’? This is one of the worst pairs of sentences I have ever read!
Yet Stirling has been a regular online contributor to Wired magazine for a long time now and has quite a following. It’s true he says sensible things on the whole but his style is execrable. And it isn’t just him. All over the Web and even in print, people write horrible stuff like this, using imagery that is inappropriate, inconsistent, misleading and silly. Striking, ‘stop-you-in-your-tracks’ imagery is great when it works but these days, instead of dazzling you with the brilliant light of revelation, it leaves you feeling like you’ve walked into a soggy curtain of wet wool.