The Localization Paradox – ATC 2017 – London
The Localization Paradox
“The localization industry is fighting against nationalistic protectionism while simultaneously fighting for nationalistic exceptionalism”
This morning I am going to propose the elements which one day will make an interesting thesis. Due to the shift in global socio-political movements, towards isolationism and nationalistic protectionism, we, in the localization industry are facing external pressures. We are enabling and promoting the spread of globalization. Which puts us in direct opposition to the nationalistic protectionists, your Steve Bannon’s and Donald Trump’s of the world. Internally, we are simultaneously insisting that cross-border cooperation is of vital importance; our translators need to have native linguistic skills for their own language, and an intimate understanding of and feeling for another language and culture; and yet our sales pitches rely on reminding companies worldwide that every language and culture is different and needs to be approached separately. Which weirdly, lines-up with the nationalistic rhetoric from the far right… but we’ll get to that later. So to state the thesis in a single sentence: The localization industry is fighting against nationalistic protectionism while simultaneously fighting for nationalistic exceptionalism.
So, who am I?
I have a Master’s of Science in International Management from the Radboud University of Nijmegen, and I wrote my thesis on work ethic. I joined Malon Hamoen when she decided to leave Euro-Com Int, and start a new dynamic LSP/eLearning company, Ludejo. I am now the marketing manager at Ludejo, but given the fact that we are starting out, we all chip in whenever and wherever we are needed! Between getting my degrees, and putting them to use in the Localization industry, I opened and ran my own bar. And for almost 6 years, it was all student parties, cocktail workshops, live music performances and roses. Okay, not exactly. I rushed into the whole adventure and signed a contract with the owners of the building which stated I owed them 100,000 in key money. My construction company “went bankrupt”, so I opened my bar 3 months later than planned, and €130,000 in debt, on top of regular banking loans, in May 2007. In October 2007, the financial crash happened, and the prospect of working my way out from under the pile of debt I had accrued was collateral damage. I have extremely fond memories of Absolute Zero. I learned a huge amount. About adversity, and pressure, but also about dealing with perceived failures and relationship building.
I related very quickly to Doug Lawrence Tedx Talk; I’m not Average; I’m International.
I was born and raised in the Republic of Ireland to an Irish Catholic mother, and a Kiwi Protestant father. I have citizenship in both Ireland and New Zealand. I live in and love The Netherlands. I am proudly European, even though as a child we talked about trips to Germany or France in terms of going to Europe. I spoke in Berlin earlier this year, at the EUATC conference, on the topic of Localization in a World Shifting Towards Isolationism. I made a joke or two during that presentation, at the expense of England. Ruth and John, and a number of other people here today were there. It was a cheap laugh and it was childish.
Depending on what sporting event is happening, my loyalties change. Ryder cup golf, I’m European: Fuck America! International rugby, I’m Irish (united North and the Republic); Fuck England. In football, I’m from the Republic; Fuck the North… and England. In club rugby, I’m Irish by birth, Munster by the Grace of God! Fuck Leinster… and England. In Gaelic football, there are 2 kingdoms, The Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of Kerry. Fuck Cork… and England.
For the purposes of the presentation, I defined Localization as “…the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market.” A paradox is defined as “…a person or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities.”
It is at this point that I would like to announce the title for the thesis which is going to be written on this topic:
“Nostalgia, Nationalism and Nuance”
or : How I learned to stop worrying and Love alternative facts
Very quickly, nuance is “a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression”. Important to remember, in general, but please keep it in mind during my presentation. Especially if I say something you disagree with. I wouldn’t worry about it, It’s probably just nuance.
The 2 other terms, which are key to understanding where we are today and where we are potentially heading will be addressed in greater detail during this presentation. Nationalism and Nostalgia.
How many of you have heard someone say: “In my day, all we had was a dictionary, a pen, a piece of paper, and a bit of common sense”.
Have you ever heard criminals, in movies, or documentaries say: “criminals these days are animals. There’s no honor amongst thieves anymore. In my day, we had a code. You respect your elders. You respect the family.” You know, that whole Sopranos/Godfather Mafioso image is entirely made up. When real, knuckle dragging thugs and criminals in the actual mafia saw the Godfather, they thought this was a much cooler way to go about their business. So these Dems and Dose guys, started buying sharp clothes, articulating, and philosophizing about the nature of the universe…
Basically, Mario Puzo, who wrote the Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola, and Marlon Brando between them, created this mythologized version of the mafia. Mob bosses weren’t called Godfather until after the book and movie came out. It’s important to remember, when the Godfather came out, in 1972, it was a period piece, set in the 1950’s. I listened to an interview with Francis Ford Coppola recently where he explained how much difficulty he had to convince the studio to get this film set in the past. It cost millions more, because you had to fill the streets with 50’s era cars and put the people in 50’s era clothing. When I watched the Godfather, it scanned simply as a movie about the past, because I watched it 20 years after it came out. But it was hearkening back to a simpler time, where there was a better class of criminal. Grease, American Graffiti, and The Last Picture Show were all movies from the 70’s about nostalgia for the 50’s because Nostalgia is not an insignificant human driver.
What was the best decade for music? If you had to choose, which decade would you go for? What era do you yearn for? I’d like to get a quick show of hands. Who here thinks the best music comes from the 1980’s? What about the 1970’s? Anybody here in favour of the 1990’s?
I found a sub-Reddit discussing this topic, and this is a breakdown of the findings there, obviously a scientific quantitative research. It has charts and everything. 70’s and 80’s are very popular and the 2010’s and 2000’s are no where near as popular. Music nowadays sucks right?
Music, rather like smells, can trigger memories. This is, more often than not, songs that you don’t hear very often. For me, whenever I hear Edwyn Collins – A Girl Like You, I am 16 years old again, working in the stockroom of a Dunnes Stores back home. That song was played to death the first summer I had a job. As soon as I hear it, I can smell the boxes in the stockroom, and I can almost taste the shitty food in the canteen. It was awesome! My first summer of independence!
The word nostalgia is learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of nóstos, which mean “to return home”, and álgos,
which means “pain” or “ache”.
The term was coined by a 17th-century medical student, Johannes Hofer, to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. Nostalgia is associated with a wistful yearning for the past, its personalities, and events, especially the “good old days” or a “warm childhood”.
You’d never think to mention Nostalgia along the spectrum of human desires, along with hunger, thirst or lust. But I think idealizing another time belongs on that list, when you look across history, it really is pervasive. But for some reason there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to that equation; the idea that people in the past were idealizing the past. That’s a step too far for our brain to care about. I’ll explain how this ties in with Nationalism in a little bit.
Rose Tinted Tyranny…
How many of you have seen this video? Simon Sinek; Millennials in the Workplace. Over 10 million views on YouTube, and shared ad nauseum on Facebook over the last year or so. I had so many friends post this, or just comment:
“THIS”. “OMG yes!” “You have to see this!” “This is perfect!”. “Nail, hammer, head!” “Fucking Millennials with their “participation” medals, their beanbags and their need for a purpose”.
“Life sucks, buy a helmet snowflake!”
I don’t have time to go into the many, many, many ways I disagree with so much of what Simon Sinek had to say in this smug advert for his business consultancy firm, but what I will say is that many of his arguments have been repeated by every generation about the generation that follows them.
This quote, for example: “It’s time to call a halt; time to live in an adult world where we belong, and time to put these people in their places.”…
…is actually from K Ross Toole, an American historian and professor, and was published in 1971 in an article titled “The Tyranny of Spoiled Brats”. Go back far enough and you would have heard conversations along the lines of “I can’t believe Grog won’t go out hunting mammoth with his father, and just as his grandfather did. All he does is play with his newfangled wheel thing”.
The point is, if we’re going to lump an entire generation together, we are naturally going to have our own biases, through which we will make judgements of what we believe is best practise, or correct. Claiming the next generation is lazy and entitled is a right of passage we all get to go through, but it’s lazy and entitled, and it ignores nuance.
If you want to hold on to one scientifically proven generalization, keep in mind the Flynn Effect, which basically states, the average score on a standard IQ tests goes up by about 3 points every decade. So, the kid who had his first job, working in Dunnes Stores this year, even if we had the exact same hobbies and interests, he will be 6 or 7 standard IQ points smarter than me.
This time last year, we had just finished the “Full English Brexit” panel discussion, chaired by Florian Faes from Slator and focused on the ramifications of the Brexit vote for our industry.
12 months down the road, and thankfully all of the worries raised in that discussion have been satisfactorily addressed by the negotiation teams from the EU and UK. I’m joking.
Brexit is trundling toward us at an unrelentingly slow pace, and the consequences are still clear as mud; nazi’s are openly marching in the streets in America and we’re on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea. After 2016, that feels just about right.
To understand this populist narrative we need to look quickly at the concept of Nationalism.
There are many different ways to define and differentiate types of nationalism. To keep things simple, I’m only going to address 2 broad types; Civic and Ethnic nationalism.
Civic nationalism is based on a political identity built around shared citizenship in a liberal-democratic state. Thus, a “civic nation” isn’t defined by its language or culture, but by its political institutions and liberal principles, which its citizens pledge to uphold.
The central theme of ethnic nationalism is that “nations are defined by a shared heritage, which usually includes a common language, a common faith, and a common ethnic ancestry”. It also includes ideas of a culture shared between members of the group, and with their ancestors.
With civic nationalism membership can be chosen by immigration. Membership, as far as ethnic nationalism is concerned, can only be inherited. Do individuals create the nation, or does the nation create the individual?
Nationalism is extremely complicated, but basically it works on a spectrum, which starts with folk dancing, and ends with barb-wire and trenches. The problem with Nationalism is that it creates a “Them or Us” dynamic. As humans we tend to be wary of things that are different to us.
Ethnic nationalism is closely related to nostalgic nationalism. This is not simply a movement at play in the UK because of Brexit, or in the US because of Trump. Russia, Japan, India, China and Hungary are experiencing their own forms of nostalgic nationalism. In each case, the past that is harkened back to is whitewashed of most, if not all, of the terrible conditions that had to exist to make those great empires exist.
Previous eras in which nostalgic nationalism came into fashion are hardly encouraging. In the 1930s, Mussolini’s Italy appealed to the glories of ancient Rome, while the Nazis cast themselves as heirs to the Teutonic knights of medieval Europe.
The Globalization Paradox
If you strip away all the noise and anger and racist undertones surrounding the pre and post Brexit debate, there is a legitimate argument for supporting the desire to leave, or at the very least change the European Union.
A professor of international political economy at Harvard University, Dani Rodrik has become one of the most powerful critics of what he calls the “hyper-globalization agenda” favoured by the corporate community and academic economists. Rodrik reframed the debate as one between “smart globalization” and “maximum globalization.”
The starting point of Rodrik’s argument is that open markets succeed only when embedded within social, legal and political institutions that provide them legitimacy by ensuring that the benefits of capitalism are broadly shared. Defenders of globalization have always noted that the richest countries tend to be those most open to the rest of the world in terms of trade and investment. Rodrik goes a step further by noting that the most open countries are also the ones with the biggest governments, the most extensive and effective regulation, and the widest social safety nets.
The paradox, as Rodrik sees it, is that globalization will work for everyone only if all countries abide by the same set of rules, hammered out and enforced by some form of technocratic global government. The reality is, however, that most countries are unwilling to give up their sovereignty, their distinctive institutions and their freedom to manage their economies in their own best interests.
Not China. Not India. Not the members of the European Union, as they are now discovering. Not even the United States.
In the real world, according to Rodrik, there is a fundamental incompatibility between hyper-globalization on the one hand and democracy and national sovereignty on the other. The British people voted to strengthen (or regain) their sovereignty.
Rodrik made the point that sometimes there is too much emphasis on the need for co-operation at a global level, and that most of the things we need for globalisation to work well are things countries need to do for their own good.
This, however, is where I disagree with him. Too many of the issues we face today are pan-global problems. We cannot face issues like global warming, terrorism, or financial crises which do not respect national boundaries, if we are not willing to reach out beyond our borders.
How does this affect us?
Well, from a nuts and bolts point of view, we are facilitating the beast that is hyper-globalization. We earn our livings helping open up new and exciting markets to companies selling their wares. The better they do, the better we do… right?
From where I’m looking, we are stuck in the middle of forces which are pushing and pulling in different directions. Globalization has many issues and many many people who are feeling increasingly left behind and forgotten.
It appears that we are facing a few paradoxes of our own. On one hand, within the industry, we are actively promoting cross-border, cross cultural cooperation. Organizations like the ATC, EUATC, GALA, ELIA LocWorld, to name but a few, promote cooperation and growth based on shared principles ala Civic Nationalism. At the same time, we are selling our services to companies all over the world and telling them that each individual language and culture needs to be respected and adhered to, ala ethnic nationalism.
We are also on the front-line in the war to prevent the strengthening of a “Grey Cultural Homogeny”, where language and culture is bleached of all colour and nuance. In this age of hyper-globalization, where creativity and complex allegory are sacrificed at the altar of speed, efficiency, and openness, we need to use our position to push back. So perhaps an argument could be made that a slower, more precise, nuanced form of localization-led globalization would allow for more appropriately localized texts and would ease the march towards the grey cultural homogeny.
I haven’t been part of this industry for a long time, but the time I have spent here it has been clear and obvious to me that this industry is special. I don’t mean “special” in a ‘don’t eat the crayons’ kind of way.
We work across all industries at all levels in one way or another. There isn’t another industry on earth with the reach that we have, with the possible exception of undertakers. More than just the simple reach, the nature of our industry means we have to have empathy on an industrial level. We need to understand the message, or just the basic concept that our clients want to get across. To be able to do that for different companies in the same industry is special, to be able to do that for different companies in fundamentally different industries is remarkable.
We are on the frontlines on a number of different issues; some socio-political, and, some industry specific; but all are global. These issues are not insurmountable. We are the people who are best positioned to use our industrial levels of empathy, our influence and contacts at all levels of human communication and our empowered staff, colleagues, and friends to address these paradoxes.
Our translators, and the languages and cultures they represent, need to be encouraged to continue developing a strong belief in their nationalistic exceptionalism. Without their exceptionalism, and the strength of our belief in the sanctity of our cross-border, supranational organizations, the Localization industry will wither as it is squeezed between the nostalgic nationalists, and a grey cultural homogeny.
Before I finish, I quickly want to do footnotes!
Specifically, I want to address nostalgia again. There are different forms of nostalgia. To put it in broad strokes, you have:
Social or historical nostalgia: that form of nostalgia where, even though you didn’t live it, you believe you would have been happier in a different era.
Personal Nostalgia: nostalgia triggered by smells, tastes or sounds that are important to you on an individual level; where proper mashed potatoes with just the right amount of salt and pepper and butter, and I’m 7 years old at my grandmother’s farmhouse kitchen table again.
A visit to the cherished past, especially its idealized version, can offer a fresh perspective on the present. It can remind us we’re not alone, that people love us, and that our lives have meaning.
In other words, nostalgia can make us feel better. And it usually does.
Pathological nostalgia: Health professionals do still talk about nostalgia in the context of mental illness, particularly depression. This is “pathological nostalgia.” Longing for an idealized past can be harmful for people suffering neuroses like chronic worrying, in which nostalgia can trigger an irreconcilable, negative contrast between past and present that becomes a compulsive focus.
The reason I told the story of the Godfather was to point out a very important logical fallacy which sorta forms the basis for much of what has happened. We are not the first people to fall foul of the belief that the past was better. We are not the first people to have leaders and institutions who choose to manipulate our nostalgic desires.
We must get better at knowing who or what is triggering our waves of nostalgia. Think about whether or not you are being manipulated. To what end…?
And just before people think I’m having a go at music today, I want to clarify: I am saying that Justin Bieber is the yardstick by which this millennial generation will inevitably be judged, and it will be a justified harsh judgement. There is an awful lot of amazing music being written now as well… There was a mountain of shit to be trawled through before the great songs from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s rose to the top and looking back allows us to ignore the crap and only see the greatness. It wasn’t all great.
Thank you for your attention!