Libfix tech disasters

A story making the rounds the past few days, here from Gawker:

NYU Student Accidentally Hits Reply All to 40,000 Students, “Replyallcalypse” Ensues (link)

A familiar sort of technological annoyance that is often responded to with great alarm, hence the ‘disaster’ libfix -(po)calypse. The story excites interest in the general press because of the nature of the annoyance (it slows down an everyday operation), its source (in basic features of mail programs and human factors in their use), and the way people tend to react to it (by mailing to all the victims, by way of outraged complaint, hence compounding the problem). My interest here is mostly in the libfix and its cousin in disaster -(ma)geddon, as applying to technological woes.

The two disaster libfixes have been the subject of a great many postings on this blog, on Language Log, and on other linguablogs; instances of their use are conspicuous — striking people as creative, playful, or merely overdone (depending on individual tastes) — and there’s always the question of why a writer would choose them. After all, in referring to the NYU event, something like “reply-all mess” might have done the trick, and some bloggers (for instance, Stan Carey, in e-mail to me) found the formation awkward (it’s heavy with accented syllables, 3 out of 5).

In any case, replyallcalypse has the additional feature of being about computer technology (as opposed to being about weather, traffic, finance, or what have you). More on the disaster libfixes in technological contexts in a moment, but first one little linguistic point (replyallmageddon is very little used) and a few quick observations on problems with the Reply All feature in mail.

The feature has been there from the earliest days of e-mail. The misfortune lying in wait for unwary users comes from the choice between Reply All (mail the reply to every address in some list) and simple Reply (reply only to the original sender, plus to other specific addresses). It’s easy enough to get these confused, but things are worse than that: most systems allow you to stipulate either Reply All or simple Reply as the default scheme, so that it’s regrettably easy to forget which will happen automatically. Maybe there are people who’ve never gotten this screwed up, but pretty much everyone I know has gotten it wrong on occasion.

What happens then? The problem is likely to snowball. If you’ve done it wrong and try to apologize, then you’ve just added another wave of unwanted mail to the first. If you’re a victim in the first wave and decide to complain about the offense, then you not only set off another wave, but probably generate a series of further propagating waves; the unwanted mail, much of it decidedly unpleasant, piles up very fast.

The effect is like spam, though unintentional. To replyallcalypse correspond spampocalypse and spamageddon — and, in a somewhat different vein, techpocalypse and techmageddon. All of these are well attested.

Spampocalypse. Two examples:

The Impending Facebook Spampocalypse (link of 9/9/11)

Talking about the most recent Spampocalypse on my channel (link of 11/29/12)

And a special case, involving a spam mailbox with 666 items in it:

SPAMpocalypse, by Vicious.Unrepentant.Bitter.Old.Queen (link of 5/28/09)

Spamageddon. Here come a number of postings about fighting spam, plus things like:

Spamageddon: In the past month or so, I’ve gotten a couple of deliveries from Schwan’s [the Schwan Food Company, in Milwaukee] and enjoyed the food and drink items. However, I don’t appreciate the added e-mail solicitations. The current trend towards following up transactions with e-mail surveys is unwelcome in my book. This Spamageddon is, no doubt, one of the factors holding consumers back from even fuller use of online commerce. (link of 11/15/12)

Techpocalypse. Two illustrations:

Signs of the Techpocalypse [an aggregation of news stories, about robots replacing workers, in particular; link here]

Visions of the Techpocalypse: An Old-School Turing Machine

I seek out cool thingamajiggers and take pictures. Real-life steampunk technologies, stuff with buttons, high-end technologies, and stuff with shiny bits that go whirr! (link of 10/28/12)

And Techmageddon. One illustration:

Gear to protect your gadgets from ‘techmageddon’ [crashes, fires, floods, etc.] (link of 6/29/12)

Libfixes soldier on, in the technological domain as well as elsewhere.

5 Responses to “Libfix tech disasters”

  1. Erik Zyman Says:

    Plenty of hits for spammageddon with two ms—I wonder how many of those written mm sequences were intended to represent geminates (a pronunciation I find acceptable).

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Extended discussion of replyallcalypse, here.

  3. the ridger Says:

    We call those mailstorms here. And it happens often, with lots and lots of “don’t reply all!” and “take me off this alias!” both…

  4. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup: Dictionary scandal, names, 30 Rock cocktails | Wordnik Says:

    [...] for that “dapper casual” (dapsual?) look. Arnold Zwicky took a look at another word blend, replyallcalypse, the result of hitting “reply all” to 40,000 [...]

  5. Link love: language (49) « Sentence first Says:

    [...] Replyallcalypse and other libfix tech disasters. [...]

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