Saturday, February 03, 2007

from e to i

for a while there was the absurd ubiquity of the prefix "e-" to denote all things electronic. in one study, christian de cock et al. collected and analyzed the contents of 133 print ads appearing in the financial times between february and december 2000 that were related to the "new economy." they wrote:
One of the most prevalent discursive devices running throughout the sample of advertisements is the generic use of the prefix 'e-'. There are a total of 230 terms in this category, including 92 references to 'e-business' or 'ebusiness', 32 references ro 'e-commerce' and 12 references to 'e-marketplaces'. In addition to these common terms, many of the advertisements apply the signification prefix 'e-' to a set of business-related terms common in business discourses more generally, such as 'e-services', 'e-tax', 'e-procurement', 'e-customer', 'e-cash', 'e-profit', e-intelligence', 'e-strategist' and 'e-infrastructure'. Although this prefix does, or did, have the term 'electronic' as specific connotation, it subsequently evolved into a generic signifier for the New Economy more universally. As a second order signifier with only loose referentiality, the 'e-' prefix can be added to almost any activity or institution without apparent ambiguity or contradiction, thus greating a range of what [Steve] Woolgear [in Virtual Society?: Technology, Cyberbole, Reality (Oxford UP 2002)] called 'epithetized' phenomena: 'While it is often unclear from these labels exactly how the application of the epithet actually modifies the activity/institution in question, a claim to novelty is usually central. . . . The implication is that something new, different and (usually) better is happening'. (Christian De Cock, James Fitchett, and Christina Volkmann, "Constructing the New Economy: A Discursive Perspective," British Journal of Management 16.1 (March 2005), page 42)
make it new indeed! last week at a staff meeting, as the director of housing was briefing us on our university's new "iHousing" program, it struck me that, unless it'd already happened and i simply missed it, the prefix "i-" was destined to be the next ubiquitous signifer -- and one with an even greater degree of meaningless. that is, where "e-" clearly stood for "electronic," at least initially, "i-" is shot through with ambiguity from the beginning. (internet? intelligent? i me my mine?)

fortunately, thanks to the language police at apple, we need not worry too much. apple has cornered the market on all things "i" -- not content with mere offerings like iPod and iTunes, and deeming cicso's lawsuit over the trademark iPhone (which cisco registered back in 2000) "silly" and "tenuous at best." of course, what have they to fear when you have the audacity to offer iLife? it's a form of vertical integration and aspiration for bio-control as insidious as patenting the human genome. iHousing, beware.

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