July 23, 2007

And now, a compliment machine

The Washington Post tells us about a candycane striped machine that sits in front of a shop on 14th Street in DC, randomly spewing out compliments to pedestrians as they walk by, including:

You help create a brighter future.
People are drawn to your positive energy.
You don't hate the player or the game.

The creator of this fine machine, a local artist, says that he constructed this invention to make people feel good, whether they believe the messages or not. His intentions are admirable, of course, but he may be missing the point that compliments lose a lot of meaning when they're automated that way. Suppose he had developed a thanking machine, for example? Or an apology maker? Or a contraption to make our complaints for us? They would save us a lot of trouble but would seem sadly lacking in sincerity.

Okay, don't tell me; I know. The greeting card industry already creates speech acts for those who are too lazy to produce their own or are possibly too language-impaired to even try. But at least greeting cards, however lame they are, aren't uttered randomly and they're usually sent from one known person to another.

Both compliment machines and greeting cards (maybe I should add fortune cookies) leave a lot to be desired. Maybe I'm just an old curmudgeon, but to me it would seem better if people would do their own complimenting, thanking, and complaining -- all by themselves to specific receivers, and in their own relevant and specific words, however hard this task may seem.

Posted by Roger Shuy at July 23, 2007 01:50 PM