Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"Lower Content, More Hype"

Way back in the 20th century, when camera manufacturers actually manufactured all of the significant component parts of their own cameras, there were substantial differences between cameras and thus actual significantly unique technical details to write about. But now, with many significant component parts being sourced by several manufacturers from the very same factories, cameras are - technically - very similar and so there isn't much to write about really to distinguish one manufacturer from another. The solution? Spin! Hype! BS! As an example, here is some actual text from an ad for a respected camera manufacturer (with the name changed):

"Armed with remarkable image processing technology, and brilliantly balanced with an easy-to-use interface. The new Z331, loaded with 10 megapixel power and superior shooting capabilities, will precisely execute your every command.
"The Z331's professional list of features include a 10 effective megapixel CCD for high quality images, a newly developed 11-area AF system for exceptional sharpness, our Creative Lighting System providing the ultimate in lighting control, Ultra-High speed 5fps continuous shooting to capture fleeting moments, and a magnesium alloy body for the perfect blend of durability, weight, and feel."

Let's have a look at some details:

It has: "image processing technology".

Big deal - they all do! So add some spin: "Armed with remarkable"

It has: "an easy-to-use interface".

Big deal - they all do! So add some spin: "brilliantly balanced with".

It has a: "10 megapixel" CCD.

Yawn... spin: "loaded with ..... power". (Since when did "power" become an acceptable substitute for "CCD" anyway?)

It has "shooting capabilities".

No kidding! It had better! It's a camera after all! Help! Spin! "Superior". Ah, yes! "Superior shooting capabilities"! But... superior to what?

It will: "execute your every command".

Well... yeah! No kidding!? If it doesn't, then it's broken! Spin: "precisely" (+ "every").

The camera has a "list of features".

No surprise here, how to make this bit if bland information sound interesting? Make it a "professional" list of features! What are these "professional" features?

It has a "10 effective megapixel CCD".

10 megapixels is pretty ho-hum these days. Top of the line actual professional cameras have more, so this is a virtual professional camera I think, not a real professional model.

The camera has an: "11-area AF system".

Very standard these days - even the cheapest pocketable cameras have multi-point auto-focusing. How to spin that? Add "newly developed" at the front and "for exceptional sharpness" at the rear. "Exceptional sharpness"? I find that offensive! The lens is either in focus or it isn't! Exceptional sharpness is what you get with quality optics, not a multi-point focusing system, which aids accuracy in focusing in comparison to older (single-point) auto-focus systems, but will not help sharpness if the lens is lacking it!

The ad says: "our Creative Lighting System"...?

What? I don't think so! A lighting system would be a system of lights, no? (If they're just referring to the built-in flash, they shouldn't call it a "system".) I think what they're talking about here is exposure control and not in fact a lighting system at all! I suspect the person who wrote this fell into a bad translation from Japanese by not understanding the issue and just focusing on the individual words of a sentence they couldn't understand describing something mysterious to them. What to do, what to do... the translation deadline is looming, you have bills to pay and admission of non-comprehension will mean a loss of future income. What to do... what to do... Fake it! Just take the words one at at time and make a rough sentence - and then smooth that out grammatically. Result? Grammatically correct garbage!

Adding insult to injury, this non-existent "lighting system" is supposedly: "providing the ultimate in lighting control".

Groan.... "Lighting control"? Lighting control would be control of the lights, no? I don't think the camera takes over the sun and the city lights to provide good lighting for the camera! This should be (what else could it be?): "exposure control", which is control of the exposure within the camera, getting us back in touch with reality! If they're talking about control of the built-in flash, then they should call it "flash control"! Lighting is what you have before the picture is taken! Flash is flash! Lighting is lighting!

Moving along - the camera has: "5fps continuous shooting" capability (that "fps" means "frames per second" by the way).

Five frames per second isn't bad, but it's no big deal. How to spin this ordinariness into BS hype? Add "Ultra-High speed" at the front, and "to capture fleeting moments" at the rear. My main complaint with this is the "ultra" in front of high-speed. It's okay to call five frames per second fast, but this is something that cameras have had for decades (film before of course), so what's with the "ultra"? Methinks that's not honest!

What else - the camera has a "magnesium alloy body".

Good - that's nice to have - but it isn't earth-shakingly unusual. Spin? Add "for the perfect blend of durability, weight, and feel" at the end. "Perfect blend" huh? They make it sound like the simple fact of utilizing a light material automatically leads to durability and good feel! Obvious nonsense!

Okay! Enough details! Now for a professional comment to wrap this up (and I mean "professional" in the sense of someone who is also doing writing-for-hire). Japanese is a naturally fuzzy language that very often allows you to floweringly describe something and not fall outside accuracy due to the writer and reader both knowing the outer limits of the fuzziness. All well and good, but it's a disaster when this style of writing is literally translated into English! English doesn't have this natural fuzziness, so a sharper focus on hard cold facts and less reliance on the imagination of the reader is called for. What's a harried translator to do? They've been given a short (always short) deadline and the company giving them the work is perpetually looking for faster and cheaper translations, so - if they're to keep working (people need to eat and pay rent), then they have to please the paymasters first and foremost and hope to squeak in a good translation a disappointing second.

How do I know? I've been there! I've done that! At the PR agency, there were times when I strung together a bunch of overwritten text and thought "This is crazy! Surely they'll see how over-the-top this is and ask me to rewrite it in a more sensible way!", but no - they liked it over-the-top and (mistakenly) took it to be a good translation as it seemed similar to the Japanese original when it was translated in a literal way (literal is generally bad when going between radically different languages like English and Japanese!). As much as I could, I would concentrate on the concept and come up with something sounding more authentically like real English, but then it was a real struggle convincing them that the effect generated in the mind of the native English reader was actually closely aligned with the concept generated in the mind of the native Japanese reader of the original Japanese - which would not likely be the case with a directly (mis)translated version.

This is giving me a headache... again!

Suffice it to say that it's a nasty business getting concepts safely from one culture and language into another! Add in advertising hype & PR spin, and there is very little actual information to be gleaned from some (most?) of the text put in front of us.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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