too much typing—since 2003


Upon the My-oh-My

On the list of things to complain about, the spreading "my" meme is pretty low-priority...but then, on the list of things that solve problems, a website is even lower. So.

I'm not sure when the whole "my" thing started - perhaps with Windows' "My Documents" default folder - but it's everywhere now: My Yahoo, My, etc. On the one hand, the urge to "personalize" the supposedly cold, gray surface of the computer is understandable...but there's something offputting, even infantile, about the nomenclature. Never mind the irony that at least where websites and the like are concerned, "my" generally results in a program tabulating your existing likes and dislikes and attempting to guess what else you might like - most often by matching those likes and dislikes with those of others: in other words, it's "my" to the exact extent "my" tastes match a particularly chosen collective other.

The infantile aspect of the meme is its implicit positioning relative to you, whose tastes, files, or what have you are being delivered. It would seem most accurate for "My Documents" to be renamed "Jeff's Documents," or whoever's machine the file dwells on...but third person is harder to specify in advance (thankfully, no one's thought to gender computers or OSs and equip them with "His Documents" or "Her Documents"). The next best solution, I'd argue, would be "Your Documents": you are not your computer; when you're looking at its screen, it is, at best, communicating to you, and so a second-person mode of address makes sense. But "My Computer" - in the first person - is, at least to a Mr. Spock, somewhat baffling: is the computer asserting ownership of itself? fact, the "my" meme asks you to internalize the computer, to imagine it as an extension of your own senses, in a sort of crude crayon sketch of a Gibsonian cybermatrix. It somehow reminds me of the way young kids employ a fluid sense of identity in play, alternating between being themselves and voicing, say, that "Teddy the Bear is my bear." Even that habit of including the generic animal name in a specific doll's or character's name - Teddy the Bear, Eddie the Rabbit, MacHeath the Shark - speaks to a sort of splitting-off of identity, almost in a totemistic way - as if Teddy the Bear is the "bear" aspect of the child. And of course, pretend-play - where the child acts out being a puppy, for example - is the most obvious instance of this phenomenon. (Human characters are seldom so-named: who's ever heard of a doll called "Bobby the Human"? I would, though, be worried if the kid started talking about his stuffed animals directly in the first person: "I am Jack's teddy bear"...)

More simply and directly, the "my" meme marks ownership. It's marketing mojo in action: you internalize and take possession of the machine. It's also another aspect of the territorial pissing instinct, marking off something as one's own - even if it's overpriced, prepackaged piss that's EULA-hedged and DRM-protected.

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