David M. Brown's Blog

December 19, 2012

When better tech writing is still not good enough

Filed under: Language and grammar — davidmbrowndotcom @ 2:10 pm

The New York Times pointed me to The Wirecutter, a web site published by Brian Lam, formerly of Gizmodo and other places. (This is the Brian Lam who for the sake of a scoop purchased a stolen pre-production iPhone model, which Apple could only have wanted to be returned pronto.) Lam started The Wirecutter in order to write about tech at a slower pace and with greater care than is possible at frantically scribbled traffic-scavenging sites. The Wirecutter aims not to talk about everything in the tech world (including every trivial thing) but to steer readers to the best stuff.

The few articles I’ve read so far are informative and relatively well-written. (In relation to what? Good question. Other tech sites.) However, look at the following two paragraphs from a piece on the iPad mini, “The iPad mini is the best tablet,” authored by the initially pseudonymous “W C Staff,” whose implied collectivity does not prevent him or them (Seamus Bellamy and Brian Lam, we learn eventually) from referring to a singular self in such scissors-worthy self-referential sentences  as “I’m embarrassed to say this because I’ve been part of the problem by not talking enough about the heft” (my, that is embarrassing):

Basically, the mini makes any full sized tablet feel as cumbersome and as ridiculous as a Nano does compared to an iPod classic, or an Air does next to a 17-inch Macbook, or an iMac does next to an Mac Pro. In most of those cases, we don’t need the power–we need the convenience. In the case of a tablet, where most of us can go to a computer if we need more power, having more makes even less sense; this is not the kind of gadget you need more power in, and lying on a bed, sofa, or packing it in a bag for travel, the mini is superior in all contexts as compared to its big brother.

Sure, yes, it’s smaller but there are compromises. Yes it’s harder to touch type on in landscape–but typing on any iPad is miserable and it’s easier to thumb type in portrait. Yes, it is only as fast as an iPad 2 and sometimes a 3, making it less than half the speed of the iPad 4. Yes, it does not have a high end retina display like the iPad 4, and the Android and Amazon tablets have better resolutions and sometimes better screens overall. Yes, one day, it may be upsold with a retina display and you may have wished you waited. That might come as soon as next year.

We have here redundancy; breaches of parallelism; wordiness; the horrific (yet, by all evidence, ubiquitous) insistence on phrases like “compared to” or “superior as compared to” in the expressing of comparisons when standard-issue comparison-expressing phrases like “better than” or “bigger than” do just fine, as compared to the alternative of not-fine; lapses in verb tense.  So we have the mini “basically” (as opposed to derivatively? tangentially?) making its big brother look ridiculous. We have “as ridiculous as a Nano does compared to an iPod classic” instead of “as ridiculous as a Nano next to an iPod classic” (if we’re going to keep the “next to” in all three examples in our coordinate structure), or “superior in all contexts as compared to its big brother” instead of “better in all contexts than its big brother.” We have “upsold” instead of–instead of what? We have “one day…you may have wished you waited” instead of “one day…you may wish that you had waited.” The author or authors should also be introduced to the hyphen. Etc.

What’s the solution? Copy-editing. Hire a copy editor, tech sites. Because I’m embarrassed to say that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Don’t just talk about the heft.

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