Commentary

Einstein's Corner: The Last Digital Frontier. The Three Phases of Language: Thesis

According to the book, "Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer," by Eugene H. Peterson, language can be split into three distinct phases, each with an equally distinct function:

Phase I: Establish intimacy
Phase II: Accrue information
Phase III: Motivate and sell

Over the next few weeks, I will apply a thesis-antithesis-synthesis taxonomy to Mr. Peterson's observations, and examine how our obsessions with and addictions to technology and the media inhibit our ability to express ourselves and apply our craft as marketers and advertisers.

Phase I This is the primary language of Creation, awe, personal intimacy, relationships, injury, and art. The coos, wails, and pet names of infancy may be largely inarticulate and syntactically hazardous, but they serve a serious function nevertheless: to create intimacy and establish trust between child and parent.

We never truly grow out of Phase I language; however, it typically re-emerges at major transition points and crossroads in our lives, whenever we are required for whatever reason to re-examine our relationships with other individuals or the world at large. For instance, the adolescent encounter of first love (or each new love later in life) often evokes a return to Phase I pet names and for-your-eyes-only syntax in an attempt to facilitate and establish intimacy. And, as mentioned earlier, Phase I language is also the language of choice for artistic expression and knee-jerk reaction to personal injury or imminent threat.

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The great paradox of Phase I language is this: The intimacy it engenders makes it--by far--the most demanding and difficult to command of the three phases, although it is almost always the single phase least in demand by others as we mature, and therefore--again by far--the least practiced as well.

Phase II
Phase II language is the language of learning, of gathering information about others and the world around us. Our success (or lack thereof) with Phase II language determines in large part how well we perform in school--and later, in the workplace.

As the antithesis of Phase I language, Phase II language is the language of adolescence, and explains how teenagers can know everything there is to know (just ask them), yet remain so passionately engaged in rejecting everything they thought they knew (aka Phase I).

In its extreme form (as it exists in today's wholly mediated world), Phase II language is also the language of emotional retreat; it's where we go, what we sink back into whenever we feel threatened later in life by the incursion of the emotional moment. Nowadays, we pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV or radio, or surf the Web in order to tune out of ourselves and the world at large. We confuse ourselves with the facts.

Not so coincidentally, Phase II language is the language of choice within the digital marketing and advertising industry.

Phase III
Phase III language represents the synthesis of Phases I and II. It's the expressed sum of fact and fiction--where our dreams find sustenance and take wing, where our faith finally finds The Word.

Great motivators and great leaders employ Phase III language. It's the synthesis we crave, the serenity of warring factions come together at long last.

There exists a delicious and deliberate tension in Phase III language. It's the language of both sin and redemption. It's also the language of great advertising.

More next week. Best to you and yours in the interim.

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