Fake Praise from No One in Particular


I was recently prompted on Linkedin to update my profile. I clicked through the various questions that suggested I update my job history, add a background image, and endorse various people. The prompt out of nowhere to suddenly improve my profile’s content, look and feel, suggests that Linkedin knew my profile needed improving. I said no to everything; then, at the end, Linkedin congratulated me: “Your profile looks great!”.

I’ve had that experience before. I’ve had automated emails telling me my web site looks “ace” and then offering to improve it for me (for a wad of money).

We are all used to “scripts”. These are essentially processes and conversations online that are generated with varying degrees of successful targeting (Dear Mrs Paul…..) to mimic something that a human being might actually say to us. Many of these stock phrases have, of course, been cooked up at some point by a human being. he or she then “casts them out” a bit like a fisherman hurling a line and hook into the deep waters, then waiting to see if they catch anything.In this case the fisherman leaves the rod and heads home, returning only occasionally to see if anything has been caught. In the ever more sophisticated digital real, even the fisherman has been automated.

But we are used to that. We are used to dialogue boxes – “Are you sure you want to quit?” We are asked all kinds of stuff, prompted, nudged even told “you do not have permission to do that”. Our digital interface varies in style from accusing lawmaker, to warning evangelist, to gently berating parent, to crazed would be seller sucking up to us to be liked. Some of the dialogues are functional and are styled to make accessibility and flow of a process better. Our PC, tablet or smartphone mimics a guide, a teacher, a parent to help us get somewhere safely and easily. (Well, there are exceptions – the dreaded Error 666 type message where suddenly the machine in the ghost is outed and revealed in all is primitive and binary beauty).

So, these human-mimicked dialogues I can take. What bothers me more if when I am sprayed with warnings or praise like a pee from a tom cat without any specific reference to the real situation. I’m told my Linkedin profile looks great, even though it doesn’t and even though I have refused every suggestion offered by the platform to make it look better.

Specifically, constant and entirely unhinged praise simply turns into a drip feed of regular lies that can actually wear one down, create cynicism and dilute any sincerity that real humans might be trying to communicate to us. It’s a stream of clumsy fakery that diminishes the digital realm and its possibilities.

I believe a better and more sustainable approach are eloquent and truthful messages that are more neutral and calm. When praise is offered it is based on intelligent metrics. Emotional messaging is then real time and evidence based, not a blunt instrument.

Try this: The next time you receive an automated message via a web site, an email or a social media platform that addresses itself to you personally, suggesting something about you or your digital presence, pause for a moment.

Reflect on whether the message is genuinely responsive to the dialogue you are engaged in. How accurate is the message? How responsive does it feel? Don’t get irritated, just be awake to what kind of message it is. Are you being automatically “sprayed”, or is this a more intelligent and responsively written computer script? If you are told “Congratulations”, is it really cause for congratulations? If you are told “Well done!” have you really deserved that?

When I update this post I will receive the automated message from WordPress: “Post successfully updated. Lookin’ good!” – even if it looks like the back of a rhino’s  ….

Stay sensitive and awake in your digital interactions with automated processes and dialogues. There is no longer another human being at the end of the dialogue, even if a programmer or “scripter” wrote it a few months ago. Staying awake and aware can ensure that you still know how to enjoy and value real and honest praise or criticism.

Don’t get worn down.

Don’t become

Comfortably numb.

About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on November 18, 2014, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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