In Business Location Location

Big apologies this week to all our listeners. Either you will hear in this In Business what I am writing about here, and it will be irritating. Or you won’t, and the programme (about how the idea and sense of location is revolutionising the computing industry) will be very slightly misrepresenting the way high tech people talk.

I very much hope that the interviews in this In Business will have one word ruthlessly edited out. It’s the innocent little word “so”. Technology people have lapsed into the terrible habit of starting the absolutely every answer to absolutely every question with the word “so”.

Maybe the producer Neil Koenig will leave in the “so”s. But on behalf of the listener, no thanks if he does.

I am not sure where these “so”s come from. I first encountered them at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab in Cambridge Mass. nearly 10 years ago. I then thought it was just an academic affectation, but it seems to have caught on across the whole high technology universe.

What does a “so” at the end of every answer mean? Well – since it makes no sense in ordinary language – I will guess that it is where somebody, an academic or a business researcher, has done a lot of work on an abstruse subject that needs to be condensed and contracted in order to explain things to dumb inquirers such as me (and, dear listener) you.

Thus the academic or researcher does a lot of work mentally preparing himself or herself for an encounter with a lay audience.

And when asked a question, that “so” is the moment when the respondee mentally riffles through the battery of prepared answers before whisking out the one–I’ve–prepared–earlier that seems to be most suitable.

It is said that President JF Kennedy used to buy vital seconds to marshal his thoughts when asked a difficult question, by prefacing his answer with the formula: “Let me say in answer to that one..” and then launching into the reply his quick brain had had time to come up with. (Try this; it works.)

This “so” business is presumably some kind of modernisation on the old thinking device of sentences prefixed with “well”. That has the habit of sounding kind of relaxed, less professional, more colloquial about the exchange. Skilled editors have excised millions of “wells” from pre–recorded broadcast interviews over the decades, to prevent listeners tearing their hair with frustration. “So” is the new candidate, and it is even more annoying.

I’m no expert in where these things come from, but “so” may have something in comment with the habit that started –what–– 30 years ago among the Valley Girls in Los Angeles: intruding “like” into every ordinary expression: “I was, like..” It has little to do with the Valley Girls’ elongated “so–o–o–oh”, as in “so–o–oh boring!”

“Like” was a formula that rapidly went all round the English speaking work, if you were a certain age. It was self expression for people who were slightly afraid of being heard to express themselves.

Anyway, “so” is an irritating habit that indicates (at least to me) that the respondee is trying to come up with a tried and tested response, not a real answer to a real (if ignorant?) question.

So what? Well all I can say, if you have been spared (by deft editing) the torrent of “so”s I had to endure while doing the interviews that make up the programme, you’re the lucky one.

And if by some chance you haven’t been, you will be able to hear what I mean.

Peter Day

Previous Programmes

Watch Your Language - Peter Day joins a group of enthusiasts determined to improve the language of business.

Keep it Local - As pubs struggle to survive, Peter Day travels through villages in Yorkshire and Cumbria to talk to local activists.

Space - Peter Day asks what happens next on the USA's journey into space.

German Pencils - Peter Day asks Faber-Castell and Staedtler how they both stay sharp ...

Building BRICS - Peter Day finds out about the BRICS - Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and China

Over A Barrel - Peter Day contemplates the turmoil in the Middle East and fears it will affect the price of oil

Reconstructing Capitalism - Peter Day hears all about the challenges to the way capitalism works.

All at Sea - Peter Day hears all about sea transport.

China Dispossessed - Peter Day hears about some of the problems caused by China's rush for prosperity.

Back on the Road - Alan Mulally tells Peter Day how he changed the way Ford works and how it is now back in the business of selling cars.

Asia Bling! - Peter Day ponders how the rise of the Asian comsumer will change business.

Euro on the Rocks - Peter Day asks what is the future for the Euro?

Bitter Pills - Peter Day looks at changing face of drug development.

Operation Robot - would you allow a robot to operate on you? Peter Day looks at robot-assisted surgery.

Growing Pains - Peter Day asks, what is the main component of growth?

After the Crunch - Government funding and regional development: the view from Newcastle.

Chips off the Old Block - Computing in the UK, past, present and future.

Hidden Depths - Graham Hawkes, DeepFlight and exploring the oceans.

Sociability - How social technology makes new business models possible.

Are CEOs Up to the Job? - Two thirds aren't according to Xinfu's Steve Tappin. Peter Day investigates.

In at the Start - Saeed Amidi and Silicon Valley

Power Play - Is the 'smart grid' the start of something big?

Now Wash Your Hands Please - How a simple idea can transform lives in the developing world

Coming Soon - What can the experience of previous financial crises tell us about the current one?

Ticking Over - Can the Isle of Man rejuvenate the business of watchmaking?

Not Just Silicon - what can Silicon Valley teach us about innovation?

Press under Pressure - what lies ahead for the world of newspaper publishing?

Remembering CK Prahalad - in a world of change and multiple opportunities, how does a company keep up?

Rwanda Rising - building a clean safe state where business can flourish.

Life Cycles - building businesses around the idea of new kinds of bikes.

Who Sets Our Standards - the business and social benefits of standardisation.

Ready to wear - the ethical issues of the international clothing industry.

Doing It Wrong - what's wrong with the way business works?

New Age - the business of aging.

Project Alcatraz - rehabilitating offenders in Venezuela.

Selling Salvation - Peter Drucker and the Salvation Army.

Let Me Entertain You - office parties and away days.

Brazil's Sugar Rush - Brazil.

Small Wonder - microfinance.

Unlimited Company - organizational models.

Credit Crunch - cash and credit.

Student Startups - student entrepreneurs.

Media Mayhem - changes in the newspaper industry.

Squeaky Clean - branding.

Battery Power - Bolivia.

Women's Work - women in the city.

Hell For Leather - John Timpson and Timpson's Shoes.

Learning Curve - organisational culture.

Let's Start a Bank - banking.

Goodbye to Intel - Craig Barrett and Intel.

Location Location - So?

Iceland feels the Heat - the credit crunch in Iceland.

The Cisco Kid - Mike Lynch and John Chambers.

Grand Design - business schools.

Power Drive - the car industry.

All New - innovation.

Europe on the edge - What is this thing called "Europe"?

For more programmes visit the In Business programme archive.

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