e-Living in an e-world

“E-government promises of . . . cost savings, improved service delivery and positive transformations of the governmental workplaces are real. However, a high rate of e-government project failures in the next several years may be unavoidable.”

– French Caldwell, research director, Gartner Group Inc.

The potential scale of these disasters scares the bejeesus out of me, but what bothers me most about this quote is not the frightening probability of governmental failure, but the use of “e-“.

E-government! Gad, but am I tired of “e-this” and “i-that”! Everywhere you turn, virtually and otherwise, it is e-something. I just did a search for domain names beginning with “e-” and “i-“, and I found more than 2,000 of each!

My good e-friend Mr. Sterne e-forwarded an e-message he received from Kent Davis that detailed the i-degree of e-insanity:

“I spent five years in Thailand and . . . learned to speak, read and write fluent Thai. Just last year, I noticed people starting to buy Thai-related domains like crazy. One trend was to buy ‘e’ and ‘i’ names [eThailand, iThailand, eThai, iThai, etc.].

“Many of these were bought by foreigners who [evidently] don’t speak Thai [and many were bought by Thais caught up in the fever]. What’s interesting is that in the spoken Thai language, the ‘eee’ sound clearly means ‘bitch.’ It’s actually much more insulting. It’s the term for a female animal and if used referring to a *human* female – well somebody’s gonna get physically hurt. It’s incredibly rude.

“It is about the only name you can call a Thai person that would get them more angry than calling them a ‘water lizard.’ Wow!

“The ‘i’ sound? It means ‘bastard.’ Naturally both ‘iThailand’ and ‘eThailand’ are online.”

Fabulous! I couldn’t e-make this i-stuff up! What is so amusing about the whole thing is that the use of “e-” and “i-” is simply a kind of puffery more than a real way of distinguishing electronic and informational businesses and products.

This raises the sticky question – is an i-greeting different from a regular greeting? No. Would Will S. have said, “What’s in an e-name? That which we i-call an e-rose / By any other i-name would smell as e-sweet.”? I think not.

Mind you, it isn’t like misapplying simple concepts is a new idea. I would suggest that the old advertising saw “new and improved” is in the same vein. Most of what is called new is anything but, and improvements are most often in the packaging.

Now you will note that I will happily use “e-mail” as opposed to simply referring to “mail.” That’s because regular (snail) mail is a totally different medium — it is slow, error-prone and expensive whereas e-mail is fast, error-prone and cheap. See? Completely different.

If we can’t use e- and i-, what can we use? Here’s a radical suggestion: When there’s no distinction that is meaningful, how about using nothing? That means that e-commerce is acceptable because it is radically different from regular commerce, whereas e-sales, being either a part of e-commerce or not being that different from regular sales (depending on your business) represents a bogus usage.

(And it just struck me that I should include the prefix “info-” in the same category as i-. It is an equally abused construct.)

It is time we started sneering, mocking and otherwise ridiculing those who would attempt to rely on the association of irrelevant concepts to confer market credibility on products and services.

I think I may have suggested something that could be the downfall of the PR-side of the entire computer industry.

Then e-where would we i-be?