Remember wysiwyg? The catch-phrase that popped up in my youth, meaning ‘what you see is what you get.’ Whilst it emerged from the tech world, it quickly caught-on as a buzz-phrase, used by many in everyday life. ‘Oh me? Yeah, I’m so wysiwyg. No side to me, mate.’ And so on.
But you don’t hear it said very often now, do you? Now it’s all ‘keeping it real’ or ‘authentic’ or ‘living true to my values’. But are we? Have the wysiwyg generation lost their way when it comes to simply telling the truth?
Life today is immediate and public: emails demand a quick response, WhatsApp messages alert the sender to you having seen them giving no time to reflect before replying, and social media screams the latest news, politics or scandal at us 24/7. The pace of life is faster than ever before and if you don’t keep up, you’re literally – and figuratively – left behind. But does this urgency impact on truthfulness? I think so.
Pause for a moment and think of a grandparent that is no longer with us. If you’ve still got all of yours, think yourself lucky, and go and give them a hug. I’m thinking of my Nan, who died nearly twenty years ago. Think how that grandparent would feel if they were to be resurrected and dropped in to your living room right now. The obvious technological advances would, of course, be astounding to them – I’m sure my Nan would’ve loved FaceTime and hundreds of TV channels! But aside from the physical changes in the world, I think our grandparent would be astonished by our cultural changes. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to know the news, you walked to the corner shop to buy a paper or you waited until it came on the TV or radio. If you wanted to find out how a friend was, you visited them, or called them on your non-mobile phone. You had time, and you had space to choose when and how to obtain information and how to communicate and – importantly – when not to. Can you imagine how bombarded our newly born-again grandparent would feel, suddenly faced with the onslaught of modern communication and media? I imagine they’d be pretty out of their depth and would struggle to accurately respond to everything demanded of them in the current socially-acceptable timeframe, or shortness of it.
But what has this got to do with wysiwyg? Well, here’s the thing. Before we became a ‘NOW!, quick quick, chop chop’ society communicating through computers, we had time to consider how we presented ourselves to the world. We could ponder over what we wore, what we said, the tone we used when we spoke or wrote, the facial expression we gave in response to a question. And – here’s the point – we could take time to express if we were wrong, or failing or unhappy. Literally wysiwyg – what you saw is what you got, by and large. So let’s contrast that with today.
The obvious examples of what I’ll call ‘wybiwyg’ (what you believe is what you get) are Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. Now I’ve not met either of them, but it wouldn’t be a massive leap to assume that they’re not averse to a little massaging of the truth (or, it seems, massaging of other things…). The two men seem to adopt different styles but produce the same result. When faced with an allegation of dishonesty or a question he doesn’t want to answer, Trump screams, ‘fake news’ aka ‘it’s all lies!’ Whereas Boris uses ‘humbug’ (a public-schoolboy version of ‘fake news!’), bluster and hair ruffling to avoid such allegations. (Crikey, can you imagine trying to ruffle Trump’s hair?!). Neither (admittedly professional politicians) are known for providing a straight answer to a straight-forward question. And, frighteningly, lots and lots of people take what they see, hear and read from them as gospel truth. But can they be blamed for that, or are they just a product of the new ‘now’ social system?
Much as us ordinary folk might feel pressured to provide immediate responses at work and at home to the various avenues demanding our attention, I imagine politicians, world leaders and those in the public eye do too. If a microphone is thrust in your face, or a paparazzi is on your door-step all day, every day, you couldn’t reasonably stop and say, ‘do you know what? I’m having a really shit day/week/year. I don’t know how to answer your question without drawing criticism from some quarter, so can you just give me a minute?’ Oh no, we’d all be braying for their blood – this person clearly isn’t up to the job, doesn’t know what they’re doing, has something to hide, look how weak they are! And so, we get what we demand: glib soundbites which ricochet around the world in seconds, whether they’re true or not. And what does it matter? Because what’s said today is forgotten tomorrow. Or if it’s brought up again, it will be someone else’s fault, or fake news, or a witch-hunt.
But what’s this got to do with us, the ordinary wysiwyg folk? Well, us wysiwygs have become busy-wygs. We’re busy, busy, busy. Busy passing judgement on, or believing every word of, what we see on-line. Busy fighting our own battles with our in-boxes and our WhatsApp and the countless other demands on our time. In our own, worker-ant way, we’ve become Donald’s and Boris’s – how many of us can honestly say we’re unaffected by the trend for immediacy, to respond now, for fear of being seen as underperforming, unfriendly or unhelpful? When was the last time you got a reply that said, ‘actually, I can’t reply right now because I’m doing something more important/enjoyable’? Doesn’t happen, does it? The demand for immediacy is at the cost of the truth.
So what’s the answer, especially when a little white-lie here or there can gracefully ease the wheels of human relations (we’ve all seen what happened to Jim Carrey in Liar Liar, haven’t we)? I think the answer might lie (pardon the pun) in us busy-wygs reverting back to our wysiwygs ways, by finding our own voices and opinions again and standing up for what is true and challenging untruths. Standing strong against the decline of honesty and diversity so as to avoid media (social or otherwise) ‘group-think’ becoming the norm. Calling out lies and liars when we see or hear them and making honesty a virtue, not a weakness.
Think about this. What would you think if you opened the Sunday papers today and saw Boris saying in interview, ‘yep, you know what? This is a MUCH bigger job than I thought but I’m doing my best’ or ‘I’ve had a lot of extra-marital affairs in my time, but I’m someone that just really enjoys sex’. Or if you went to work tomorrow and you got an email from someone saying, ‘sorry I haven’t drafted that document over the weekend, I spent the time making slime with the kids.’ Would the world end? No, of course it wouldn’t. Would the world be much better for it? I think so.
Tim Arthur, a formal global CEO, gave a talk in Jersey last week about the march of technology and that we’re only a few years away from computers being able to read our thoughts. Is that really so scary though when the media giants and their ground troops are already filling our heads with those thoughts, whether they’re true or not? Is a computer reading our thoughts actually any worse than not having freedom over how you form those thoughts in the first place? It’s a slippery slope.
So come on fellow wysiwygs – let’s reconnect with our ‘what you see is what you get’ roots. Don’t believe everything you hear or see. Question everything. Be more wysiwyg! And let’s start disrupting the one-way slide towards a fake news generation.