Monday, December 9, 2013

Official Style Prose & Internet Permanence

             Today, more than ever, we find ourselves in a digital world.  Even if one wanted to escape it, one would find difficulty in doing so as it has become deeply imbedded in our day-to-day lives. Previous eras, prior to the rise of the Internet did not have the same opportunities those growing up in the Information Age do; however, they did have the benefit of much greater privacy.  The Internet, while great for its use as an academic tool, a way to connect socially, among several other beneficial things in reference to its uses, also has one very distinct and almost frightening aspect to it---its permanence.  
When the Information Age began, the idea of Internet permanence was not critically considered by many individuals.  This idea is obvious with the rise of individuals trying to remove unwanted information from, possibly, a previous time in their lives that wasn’t so favorable.  Considering employers take advantage of the Internet as a tool to get a great deal of background on an individual before considering them for hire, the idea of Internet permanence can become frightening because it’s as though individuals are no longer fully living with the right of privacy and any information posted on the Internet is somehow always there.  
In looking for information on Internet permanence written in the official style, I accessed a scholarly research database to find articles on the topic.  The article Publicity, Privacy, and Permanence of Information came up in my search database using the keywords “Internet”, “information”, and “permanence”.  The article was published in AIP Conference Proceedings, which, according to Wikipedia, is a series of scientific journals published by the American Institute of Physics.  To begin, being as this was one of the first articles to pop up using the keywords I did, I argue the title of the article in connection with the article’s context is a little misleading.  It isn’t until you research the journal the article is found in that the context makes sense given its title for a few reasons.  One of those reasons being that the activity systems that make up publicity, privacy, and permanence could be a long a list of phenomena not often linked to quantum physics.  To expand on my argument, consider the activity systems often linked with the words “publicity”.   The activity systems that come instantly to mind are the media and technology.  I argue this based on quantum physics being among the sciences and that the sciences often use specialized jargon based on the subject, while the humanities is more apt to use more mainstream terms like publicity; therefore, the author uses prose appropriately given the quantum physics aspect of these concepts, but the title is misleading in that it uses language heavily discussed, I’d argue more so, in other activity systems than physics.
Although the title is misleading, I argue that the author used the official style correctly, as well as, ethically, given the context of the article.  Especially when considering the content in the article from the author’s perspective.  According to Richard Lanham, the official style of prose came along when “modern science was looking for a special language.” Being as this article is published in a scientific journal, the beginning passages suggest the proper use of the official style of prose.  I argue that the following excerpt taken from one of the beginning passages discussing the basis of quantum physics and permanence is written in the official style based on its slow sentence opening, as well as, its use of complex sentences.  Consider the following excerpt as example:

Though a very novice reader can make sense of what the author is saying, it is written in a manner that doesn’t get straight to the point.  This may be a result, again, of the topic, namely, quantum physics. Further, looking at it from another possible perspective of the author’s point of view, it may be written this way so that the novice reader, potentially an individual just beginning in the field of quantum physics has an easier time understanding the concept.  With that said, I argue that some uses of the official style are correct and even useful given the context in which we’re finding this type of prose in.
In the paragraph to follow, the author uses a jargonistic excerpt continuing to explain quantum physics as it pertains to information:

 Though this is written in the official style prose and for me as the reader is difficult to understand given the specialized language it uses, I would argue that because it is published in a scientific journal by the American Institute of Physics, from the author’s point of view, the language the author uses is ethically sound and correct given the author’s anticipated audience.  Further, it works to establish the author’s credibility on the subject of quantum physics through its use of jargonistic language.
            The following and last excerpt that will be represented in this critique indicates the beginning of a working conclusion for the article:

The beginning paragraph of the excerpt is verbose; however, though this is the case, I argue that the idea within the paragraph is complicated, and thus needs to be verbose to be adequately explained.  The first of the three bullet-points breaking down the author’s main idea in the example above is written in the official style prose because it uses jargonistic language; however, I would argue the last two are written in plain style prose because they get straight to the point.  It appears all the words included need to be there, and that the idea could not be broken down any simpler (it is a complex idea).  With that said, I argue that in order for the official style prose to be used ethically.  In order to justify the author’s credibility on the subject and not confuse the audience, there needs to be places within the piece where main ideas are written in plain style like those in the last two bullet points.  If the author truly knows his or her subject, there should be places within the text where the plain style prose is used.      
Finally, in the paragraphs to follow after the bullet points, the author switches to plain style of prose when discussing information permanence in the context of other activity systems.  In specific, the author uses the activity system of the computer and reflects on many of the themes found in this activity system, that is, the Internet, data storage and recording, to name a few.  More concretely, the author taps into the activity system of technology as a whole, in doing so, going outside the realm of quantum physics as it pertains to information permanence.  With that said, the author presents the reader with objective information about information permanence by looking at the many aspects that go into the subject---not just from the aspect of quantum physics.  
To conclude, much is to be learned from this example of the official style prose.  First, not all verbose writing is needlessly verbose.  At times, complex ideas call for wordy prose in order to be sufficiently explained.  Second, the official style as it is used in the sciences, in this case, quantum physics, defines a moral and ethical reasoning for using this style of prose.  I argue this because it contains jargonistic language by nature and many of the concepts are complex and thus take longer to explain.  It would be unethical to take a complex idea, such as those often found in the sciences, and use plain style prose and leave out aspects of the idea that are needed to fully explain it to the audience.  To continue, in looking at the text’s readability statistics as a tool for further analysis the piece scored a 34.6 on the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease, indicating the article, while written in the official style, is very readable.  Finally, with that said, I argue the official style need not be extremely difficult to read in all cases and can be used in an ethical way when presenting specialized ideas to a specialized audience, such as the novice quantum physics student. 
-C. Joslin

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