Who are ‘we’?

Last week the Sydney Morning Herald website had an article titled ‘Are you breaking point?’. The story started ‘We send more than 100 billion emails a day. We check our phones 150 times a day. This can’t continue. What needs to change?’. Two things intrigue me about this – the language used and the (un-)reality it points to. In the first sentence, ‘we’ are ‘the sum total of email writers’, but in the second, ‘we’ is clearly not ‘the sum total of mobile phone users’. Does it mean ‘each and every one’ checks their phone 150 times a day (clearly not, in my case), or ‘the average mobile phone user checks their phone 150 times a day’ (in which case someone is checking their phone about 295 times a day to average me out).

150 times per day equates to once every 9 minutes and 36 seconds around the clock, or once every 6 minutes and 24 seconds in an assumed 16 hours awake. Does anyone really check their phone that often? In fact, why does anyone need to check their phone at all, if calls ring and text messages ding (and on my phone Facebook posts also ding – I wish they wouldn’t but I can’t figure out how to change the settings)?

‘We’ does have different meanings, and some languages have different words to express those different meanings. The most common is the distinction between ‘inclusive we‘, which includes the speaker and the listener (and maybe another/others), and  ‘exclusive we‘, which includes the speaker and another/others but not the speaker. For example: ‘Frank N. Furter, it’s all over … we return to Transylvania …  (Frank sings ‘I’m going home’) … [How] presumptuous of you. You see when I said ‘we’ were to return to Transylvania, I referred only to Magenta and myself’ (Richard O’Brien, The Rocky Horror Picture Show).


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