Sent From My Difference Engine

Alexis Madrigal, the tech editor for The Atlantic, has a hilarious piece where he asked people to send him their favourite augmentations of the “Sent from my iPhone lines”. The pictures are great, and the creativity of his readers is hilarious.

Here is a list of devices from which you, dear readers, claim to send emails: Commodore 64, carrier pigeon, homing pigeon, courier pigeon, fountain pen, rotary phone, hammer and chisel, tin can via the string network, typewriter, abacus, Apollo Guidance Computer, Atari, car phone, shoe phone, 1984 Samsung car phone, difference engine, Game Boy Color, IBM Selectric, pocket rocket, Remington SL3, souped-up TV remote, steam powered digital telegraph, TI-83 Plus, TI-89, toaster, UNIVAC, Coleco Adam computer, Moleskine notebook, Pony Express, Skynet, space age phonograph, and smoke signals.

But the really good shit in this essay, is this astute observation by Madrigal:

What really caught my attention is that people saw a basic grammar to iPhone signature witticisms. You put a single line of text in front of millions of people, and they start to — en masse — decompose it into playable components. Here’s the general form of the message (explicit stuff is in brackets):

Apology/Location/Status [Communication] from [My] [Device]

The surface content of the message is that you’re receiving a message from a device. But the type of device conveys an implicit status message, while the presence of the line provides an in-advance apology for any errors as well as an indication you’re mobile out there in the world (or at least not at your computer).

I’ve noticed this same phenomenon on Twitter when it comes to humour. When literally hundreds of thousands of people are looking at the same current event and trying to think of something witty or snarky to say, about 95 % of them will reach for one of two or three or four basic jokes to make. Everyone is going for the same elements, reaching into the same toolbox to get to their punchlines. Except for the comedians.

The really good comedians on Twitter are the ones who are all looking at the same thing, the same current event — and seeing it from some completely odd, new angle which makes it hilarious in a completely unexpected way. My appreciation for hard it is to be genuinely funny, and how far ahead of the pack the really great comedians are, has been deepened profoundly just by being on Twitter and reading feeds like #RoyalBaby or whatever.

(Another way of deepening your appreciation of the funny is watching Jerry Seinfeld’s talk show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.)

This mass humour effect, by the way, has killed current-events humour talk shows for me, except for a few of the really good ones, like the Daily Show or The Colbert Report or Saturday Night Live. The writing staffs are under so much pressure to get the jokes down on paper before deadline that they just aren’t fresh anymore. I’ve seen it all on Twitter hours or days earlier. They’re all going for the same box of funny that everyone else is, and maybe hoping that their stars can give enough delivery that it doesn’t matter, the supine invertebrate jellies.

Sent from my high horse

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