Cognitive Dissonance

Whenever we interact with a thing, be it animal, vegetable, human or other, we form, by trial-and-error, a certain agreeement on the meaning of the symbols we use.

This may be anything from the words that compose a language, to the motions we tell our limbs to perform to keep us walking. When the literacy level in the language of the speaker and listener is high enough, poetry and dance are possible. However, this is only really possible if the basic rules and grammar of the language are agreed on.

This is really all about me being angry at the buttons on my cellphone. The buttons are labelled “1”, “2”, “3”, “4”, “5”, “6”, “7”, “8”, “9”, “*”, “0”, “#”. Usually, I use these buttons to type in a certain number of a certain friend’s phone that I want to call at the very moment. Then, I press the send key. But, my phone and I have a few more things we talk about:

“*” also means I want to put my phone in vibrate mode.
“0” sometimes means means “I’m tired of navigating through a stupid menu system and want to talk to a human being”
“1” sometimes means “I want to speak in English, not French”
“7” sometimes means “I want to delete the message”

Curiously, written directly onto the buttons in smaller writing are strings of leters, such as “MNO” on the “6” and “WXYZ” on “9”. I’ve come to find that they don’t actually mean the entire string, but only a few letters at a time.

I text message my friends alot since with my cellphone plan it’s free and often I only need to let themknow of things without having an entire conversation. When I’m text messaging, I need to communicate in the English alphabet. For “5”, also labelled “JKL”, I can get three different things (actually four, if you include 5 itself):
5 = J
55 = K
555 = L
5555 = 5
55555 = J (again)

so, if I wanted to text message “Im coming”, it would be entered as:

“4446#222666[wait a second]6444664444”

I pressed “4” too many times the last time, so I had to go all the way around again. This is the way I’m used to doing things

However, something I also do often is looking up people’s extension numbers in automated telephone directories. At some point in the automated menu system (when I haven’t gotten annoyed enough to press “0” yet) I’ll hear “Please enter the first three letters of the person’s last name.” Whereupon if I want to speak to someone with the last name “Bergeron”, I’ll enter the ridiculous string of numbers:


By the first “7”, the system is usually yelling back at me that it doesn’t understand me. The system expected me to enter “237”, and then it would run some sort of matching algorithm. The predicament gets worse when I type in a number too many times and I automatically go all the way around again, making the system yell at me even more. This is dissonance – we had this well agreed-upon language that suddenly ceases to be, and now I don’t trust my phone.

I’ve recently been playing Indigo Prophecy – a “game” that the French creator billed as an “interactive movie.” The interactive story elements are pretty awesome, and you can change characters while wandering through the story’s world to hear their perspective, which can actually change the course of the story. Unfortunately, during combat or action scenes it switches to what is called “Shenmue-style” button matching sequences, meaning I need to stop paying attention to what is actually going on on the screen and I switch to paying attention to little green, red, yellow or blue lights that show which buttons I need to mash on the keyboard to do “Great!” in the sequence. This is stupid. After a total of 10 hours of play or so, they’ve built up absolutely no meaning to me. I honestly cannot say that “blue” differs any way from “green”. It just absolutely has no meaning for me. I don’t care. I mean, sometimes when me characters need to dodge left, then the green buttons light up (which happen to be of the left side of the screen), but honestly I don’t care. I’ve almost taken to giving up the game because these actions sequence frequently end in failure and in no way add to the enjoyment of the game. Please people, be aware of the learning potential of languages. Otherwise, the game’s pretty awesome and packs some real cajones.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

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