Diana Vreeland Writes a Technology Help Column -The Toast

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Suffering from technological ignorance, indecision, or insouciance? Why don’t you … ask Diana Vreeland all of your fascinating technology questions? (And also, why don’t you back up your files into thumb drives embedded into appropriately shaped objects? Back up music files to a thumb drive embedded in a thumb piano, for instance!)

Q. I’ve been using a 13″ MacBook Air, but I’d love to switch to the new iPad Pro. Is it really ready to replace my laptop?

A. The new iPad Pro is simply divine! I have had mine lacquered in a very Chinese Chinese red … all my electronics have been lacquered red by a man in Corsica for years now. It’s the only truly elegant color for anything that must be refreshed from the mains. (He also hand-turns all my lightswitch plates.)

Once your iPad Pro is red, it’s fine for dashing off a memo about how we really must feature AstroTurf-lined trench coats for Spring, and for pinning to your planche of Things Schiap Would Have Made Into Hats. But if you are giving your dear friend Andy advice on how his films should feel just slightly more louche, in a kind of Windsor way, and need to make a quick edit to demonstrate, or showing Mick how he should add a truly Moroccan cymbal sound, you really should maintain your Air. In any case, why don’t you acquire an external keyboard … preferably one with Bakelite keys. Bakelite is the only material that allows one to maintain a manicure and type … its hardness is just soft enough.

Q. My co-workers and I are having a disagreement about whether or not it’s appropriate to include emoji in work correspondence. What do you advise?

A. Some of the most fascinating cultures of the world have used what were essentially emoji — think of the elegant flat hieroglyphics of Egypt and the globular glyphs of the gloriously vital Mayans! They carry such force and feeling with them! I can almost hear them across the centuries, can’t you? It is a terrible shame that Russia developed an alphabet; they are a people who could really employ a logographic writing system to full effect.

But it is essential to show restraint, especially in business. The correct escalation of feeling is to begin with italics, or perhaps an underline … then bold for increased emphasis (as if you were trying to command the attention of a crowded room) … after that, there are SMALL CAPITALS (not, in any circumstance, ALL CAPITALS). SMALL CAPITALS are useful for commanding troops or for any direct instruction to one’s staff. The right typography has dignity and authority, like a woman in Balenciaga … it is beyond a question of taste, it is just a fact.


Put an ellipsis anywhere you want your reader to draw a breath … but emoji are to be used as garnish only. Adding the airplane emoji to your forwarded travel itinerary, or a moyai emoji to indicate enigmatic decisions, is perfectly apt. Remember, true elegance is the refusal to use too many emoji!

In chat, however, any type or quantity of emoji is fine. Why don’t you commission custom emoji for your team’s Slack channel, preferably ones based on great works of art?

Q. How young is too young for a child to be given a cell phone?

A. The question is not one of age, but one of conversation. If a child can hold your attention in a dinner conversation, about dinosaurs, or candy, or especially about fairies, then by all means give them a mobile phone. Don’t worry about spelling … autocorrect really understands young children, it’s fantastic. Once they have cell phones, you should make sure to train them to see with their own eyes first. Only when they have learned to focus on the essential detail of a scene or tableau (you may ask them to demonstrate with pastel crayons or Shrinky-Dinks) should they be allowed to use Instagram.

When you see a small child, a tot of four or five really use an iPhone, the little fingers going swipe swipe swipe, and then tap and tap again! And then a swipe of their nose! And back go the fingers to the screen. Of course it’s a wonderful education for an older person, to watch a child with a mobile phone, or really any screen. So vital!

The Jesuits, of course, are right, and children below the age of reason should not be allowed to use emoji. Like kittens or Roombas or Republican presidential candidates, they do not yet have the true depth and breadth of human emotions. Why don’t you create quick snaps of their own facial expressions for them to use instead? Add a prop such as a lollipop or an axe if necessary!

Q. I work for a company that has a big, monolithic piece of software that is terrifying to update, because no one really knows how it works. I’d like to tear it apart and rebuild it on a microservices model. How do I convince my bosses that this is a good idea?

A. Oh, I’m mad about microservices! Mad about them! And in changing software development paradigms, boldness! Boldness is all! But despite appearances, software, like fashion, rarely changes in one fell swoop … The trained eye can always recognize the small harbingers of a greater change … like the first snowdrops of spring, or the quarter-inch dropping of a hemline, or le smoking.

To be the most persuasive, choose carefully the function that you find most frustratingly appalling and out-of-date, and replace it with something small, neat, and clean-lined. Choose your new implementation to be as different as possible … make the contrast sharp! If possible, write software that will simply catapult you into a completely different business!

Divert some small percentage of your system’s load to the new function … after you have written full test coverage, of course. Do not ask for permission, which is always fatal. Because you have cleverly chosen something small and streamlined it, your colleagues will be clamoring to do the same … and a manager too fearful of change will also fear being left behind. Some people will object to this, but some people will object to absolutely anything. It’s best to continue to cleave off functionality sharply, bit by bit, like chopping sugarcane with a machete …  why don’t you remind any dissenters that stop-the-world rewrites are terribly bourgeois and suburban?

Erin McKean spends entirely too much time thinking about Diana Vreeland. When she's not doing that, she runs Wordnik.com.

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