Hope You Win
Little things annoy me that nobody else in the world could possibly care about. One of them is E-Bay’s message at the end of every sale:
“You have bid £3.40 for the item. Hope you win”.
Who hopes I win? E-Bay the corporation? The browser? Clearly I’m the only one inferring meaning here, so maybe I mean it, but I’m not the meaning the sentence - I mean I probably do hope that I win, but it’s not like I mean to say that sentence. If I’m giving the sentence meaning, what meaning am I to give it? A ’nobody’ meaning? Nobody hopes that I win? (except me, obviously)
Obviously this is nonsense, as the irritating presence of normal, sensible thoughts tell me.
Why bother with any of this, when the only answer is that there’s no answer?
Well, since you asked - the problem is momentum. Nobody takes courses on how to buy things on E-Bay. They don’t have to go through umpteen instructions saying “Click the blue button to proceed, and click the red button to transfer the first n items into zone C, where we will soon be able to purchase them”. The structure’s quite different - it’s a pretend conversation. You say, “I want shoes”, the computer says “Here are shoes”, and you say “I’ll agree to bid £3.50”, so the computer responds with “Your bid has been placed. Hope you win”.
The narrative has very much changed at this juncture. What once told a coherent story has turned to lies. The computer made claims to do things for you before, and each one of them worked fine. Suddenly it’s claiming to “hope”, and it’s clearly fabricating things. But we can’t even stop at a lie. Clearly E-Bay’s not thinking I’m a special shopper with a keen eye, it’s saying this to everyone. E-Bay hopes everyone simultaneously wins the bid - a logical impossibility.
So perhaps the narrative is suddenly twisted beyond repair. Or perhaps the narrative was always that of a thousand E-Bay gremlins, each showing you various goods and each of them lying about their ability to have feelings, like hope.
Clearly no answers can be gained here, and clearly nothing was intended. Except that it was - I’m not the only one in this picture here. This statement is something somebody typed out at one point, with an intention, and that intention’s arrived at me. Just as surely as any newsbroadcaster states things with a narrative as of a person making a factual statement to the viewers, this unknown programmer from the nineties must have put that line down. And before them, some designer or executive decided that those words should appear. From mouth to screen, like any standard statement written online. The “buy” button communicated something from a designer, the “bid” button communicated something. All of it effectively communicated an internally coherent thought which was part of the next coherent thought, as much communicated as any choose-your-own-adventure book.
This person must have existed at some point, or an organization as a whole cooperated, all to tell a narrative - a single narrative, to you, about how you’ll get the things that you want in return for money. And at the end of the whole affair, you find the narrative they’re telling you not only stretch beyond the limits of what they could have said to you, but to have made a basic contradiction. We can’t all win, and even if we could, that’s not one of the things a computer can say. Like finding a floating piece of paper where someone’s written “However finds this, I love you and you are important”, or hearing a robot at the train station say “Scotrail apologizes for the delay” - there’s no such thing as an apology from a machine. This type of thing isn’t something that can be communicated to a general population according to rules. This kind of meaning cannot be automated.
So there’s the argument in full for being rationally irritated with E-Bay’s nonsense, and now that I’ve explained myself, I hope you’re irritated too.