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A Copywriter Explains Why Technology Needs English Majors

January 11, 2013 Jeff Bradford

I I am a student of English and philosophy who spends a large portion of his reading time with books on modern physics. One of my plans for retirement is to go back to school to learn the mathematics necessary to truly understand the physics books I am reading.

We live in a world shaped by the hard sciences, rewarding those who can shape matter to our bidding. It is largely a positivist world, where all that exists is energy and matter and all that matters is how, not why.chaplain

What is an English major to do?

We are to make sense of it. Apple understands this. It doesn’t sell technology. It sells possibilities, novelty, wonder, discovery, mastery, joy. That’s why Apple stores are always packed, and why stores that emphasize only the technology die. (Remember CompUSA? Circuit City?)

And that’s what smart public relations practitioners and marketers do. We breathe the myths of our culture into the machines of our age to give them meaning and vitality. Creating this emotional connection may be as important as creating the technology, because it creates desire for the technology.

At the other end of this poetical/practical spectrum lies my fascination with the physics behind our technology. The unseen and probably unseeable forces that make the iPhone work are as mystical as the myths used to sell the iPhone. Physic’s latest theory postulates that that there are actually 11 dimensions and that we can only experience four of them because the other seven are “curled up.” And string theory is basically the idea that all that exists are vibrating strings of energy. Just like Einstein said, energy equals matter. This is mystical.

Copywriters breathe the myths of our culture into the machines of our age to give them meaning and vitality.

I understand, or at least understand the language of, the mythical end of the spectrum. That’s what literature, art, religion are about, which I’ve spent a lifetime studying. I am by no means an expert, but I understand the code well enough to “get” it – unlike my situation on the mystical end, where my unfamiliarity with mathematics prevents me from truly understanding what the priests of physics are saying.

So I hope to learn their code and close the circle that begins in mystery, proceeds through matter and ends in mythology, only to begin again in mystery. The parts of this circle that you can’t see – mystery and mythology – create and make sense of the matter you can see. The invisible, which includes the mystery of marketing, is essential. The visible, the actually technology, is ephemeral.

And that’s why there will always be a place for English majors. Because we tell the stories that people are really buying when they buy an iPad.

photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc

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