Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Gate City, United States"? Why Yahoo's New Feature Puts Me Off

Yahoo e-killed me on subsidiary pages with "associatedcontent.com" in their web addresses, but still accepts my comments on pages whose web addresses begin with "yahoo.com." Odd, but tolerable. However, I'm turned off by their latest innovation.

Actually, I don't care much for innovation, period. I like things I use to be reliable, predictable...in the case of computer software, get the program right and then leave it alone. I don't like to waste time un-learning and re-learning much of anything just because somebody wanted to make a bid for attention.

Anyway, Yahoo decided it would make the comments more interesting if they automatically displayed the locations from which people post comments. Of course this is interesting, because the Internet is global. But they messed up the way the locations displayed by showing only city and country names.

Why doesn't this work in the United States? One obvious reason: towns and cities in different states can have the same name. There's only one Gate City in Virginia, but there are a few other places called Gate City in other states--notably the one in Georgia that's often mentioned in the novels of Fannie Flagg. There are at least four other cities, besides the "twins" on the Virginia/Tennessee border, called Bristol. If you have online time to kill, try typing the name of your city into a search engine to see how many other places share its name.

But there's a deeper political reason than that. The States were not originally meant to be analogous to the provinces, shires, or "departments" of European countries. That rhetoric about "a sovereign nation of sovereign states" was originally more than just rhetoric. Each state was a separate political entity with the right to make and enforce its own laws. That's why we've never had any kind of rule, or policy, preventing cities in different states from using the same names.

The only city that could grammatically be identified as "[name], United States" would be our national capital, which was meant to be independent of any state. However, because George Washington wanted the nation's capital to be called "Columbia" rather than "Washington," we've developed the habit of writing "Washington, D.C." instead of "Washington (or Columbia), U.S.A."

For other cities, it's grammatically incorrect to write things like "Gate City, United States," or "Los Angeles, United States," or whatever. If you're writing about the Gate City in (a suburb of) which I'm typing this post, you write "Gate City, Virginia," as opposed to "Gate City, Georgia." So far as I know there's only one "Los Angeles," but the correct form is still "Los Angeles, California." Or "Honolulu, Hawaii." And if you write "New York, United States," you're correct if referring to the state of New York, incorrect if referring to the city.

I'm not sure whether "Gate City, United States" is more like "Edinburgh, United Kingdom," or like "Moscow, U.S.S.R.," or like "Port of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago," since each of these mistakes clunks in a slightly different way for slightly different reasons...but I'm withholding my location from Yahoo until Yahoo gets it right. I may be sitting in Gate City, Virginia, or in Wise, Virginia, or Pennington Gap, Virginia, or Nickelsville, Virginia, or Kingsport, Tennessee, or some other place, but I'm not in "(city name), United States."

If there's only room to display two terms that describe my location, the alternative to "Gate City, Virginia" would be "Virginia, United States." I offered Yahoo that option, but their oh-so-sophisticated-and-innovative new software wouldn't take it.

Well...I usually comment on Yahoo articles only when they're posted by e-friends who've become semi-familiar with the small towns of southwestern Virginia by reading my articles, anyway. And maybe it's better for the whole world not to know when I'm on the road. When using the Internet it's a good idea to try to think like a criminal, because criminals use the Internet. Do we really want professional burglars to know when we're not at home?