A career spent manipulating, caressing, appropriating, castigating, rejecting, embracing and sometimes mangling words will lend a perspective, however skewed, on their application.
Digitisation has been a boon to the bone idle, because it means that while trillions of new connections are flourishing in productive (if brief) electronic relationships, that traditional coupling, between brain and mouth, often need not be achieved at all.
Cue the six-letter word at the heart of this rant: “system”. And, in its infuriatingly meaningless context, “the system”. What is this untraceable, omnipotent, never compassionate, invariably judgmental superpower?
My vehicle reposes in an underground car park, the entry and exit doors of which are allegedly controlled by cameras that recognise number plates. After four months of being repeatedly locked inside, or marooned outside, I have recently discovered that the registration number has still “not been added to the system”. (How difficult can it be?)
In the 2016 movie Money Monster, “a glitch in the system” helps Dominic West’s bad guy defraud investors out of US$800 million. A cheery message I received following the successful booking of a ticket informed me: “This is a system generated email and not possible to respond.” [sic]. In vinyl’s heyday, Paul Weller sang, “It’s the system, hate the system, what’s the system?” but at least we knew he was ranting about class struggle.
With positive spin, today, if “you’re in the system” then, technologically at least, you exist. “I’ll add your details to the system,” means you might exist, unless lunchtime at the bank comes around first. “All systems go!” may sound antiquated and B-movie-optimistic now, but it once indicated cosmic empowerment as you rocketed to Mars.
In a sporting context, English Premier League champions Manchester City play football in ways that manager Pep Guardiola’s “system demands”, according to The Guardian newspaper, because “the system will win games”.
In contrast, falling back on “the system” in any brainless contemporary utterance simply betrays an abdication of responsibility – much like believing in god. There is no system: it’s just a figure of speech to make you feel that someone somewhere knows what they’re doing. And if, when something goes wrong with “the system”, you yell in blue-faced frustration, then you’re simply screaming into the void.
The system: just like the house, you can’t beat it … unless you’re a hacker and have Cathay Pacific in your sights.