Donald White House’s genius vision of a world without surnames

Laura Slattery: Is ‘Tim Apple’ a character from the Garden Gang or a satirical novel?

US president Donald Trump got the name of the CEO of America's most valuable company wrong at a meeting on the American workforce. Video: The White House/ Youtube

 

Donald Trump, self-professed “very stable genius”, gave the world some unintended brilliance last week in his praise for Apple chief executive Tim Cook. “You’ve really put a big investment in our country. We appreciate it very much, Tim Apple.”

Tim Apple, sitting right there, was totally impassive in the face of this slip, as was Ivanka White House. Hours later, he changed his surname on Twitter to an Apple logo. This was a good day for Tim Apple. If he was married to the company, then the company must be married to him.

It was not the first such presidential “flub”, as the US media calls them – Marillyn Hewson, the boss of defence contractor Lockheed Martin was last year introduced as Marillyn Lockheed. She was similarly stoic, while that day’s presidential minder, Mike White House, registered no human emotion at all.

Some of us scrolled through our contacts and wondered if by vocalising a shorthand people use in their professional lives, the US president was unwittingly onto something

Although not ideal – and possibly symptomatic of a real, unfunny problem – these mistakes don’t really seem like they should be top of the list of things for which to castigate Donald Trump Organisation, as I’m sure Jeff Amazon and Mary General Motors would agree.

But perhaps because Tim Apple sounds like a cast-off from the Garden Gang (copyright Ladybird Books), this particular gaffe has captured the viral imagination. Some of us were amused. Some of us nervously scrolled through our phone contacts and wondered if by vocalising a shorthand people use in their professional lives on a daily basis, the US president was unwittingly onto something.

What he was actually onto was the premise for a dystopian novel. To be precise, he had blundered into the world of Jennifer Government.

Surname satire

The work of Australian writer Max Barry, Jennifer Government is a satire of mass-marketing and consumerism in which everybody goes by first name, corporation name – Hack Nike, Violet ExxonMobil, Billy NRA – and that’s the least of their problems. Let’s just say it doesn’t end well for schoolgirl Hayley McDonald’s.

This fun thriller was published in 2003 in the wake of a spike in the levels of critical attention paid to the global business practices of big brands: Naomi Klein, author of No Logo, supplies a quote for the blurb. As is the fate of most speculative fiction, it has over time become more of a period piece – today, companies such as Mattel, Sears, Pepsi and the descendants of AOL Time Warner would kill for the kind of power they enjoy on its pages, which are indeed full of corporations doing explicitly murderous things in order to make a sale.

"Put your employer’s name first, that’s what I say. And leave all your notifications on, it’s fine."

But the central set-up in its small-government universe now reads as startlingly prescient. Oh, how I laughed at Barry’s outlandish concept when I raced through Jennifer Government on a long-haul flight in 2004, not knowing that within a decade I would find myself voluntarily setting up a Twitter account with the handle @IrishTimesLaura.

To participate in certain prestigious parts of the labour market, it is no longer enough to work for money. You must love it, be it, embrace the responsibility without the power

Put your employer’s name first, that’s what I say. And leave all your notifications on, it’s fine.

Tim Cook, whose ancestors were presumably handy with a skillet, may never be quite as synonymous with Apple as its founder Steve Jobs, who comes from a long line of people notorious for multi-tasking. But that is surely a nice ambition for the man currently in charge of the iPhone maker to have. As long as things are going well for Apple, people will be happy with Tim Apple.

Lower down the hierarchy, pressure on employees to represent their employers at all times, like walking worker-bots, may feel less benign, more binding. For some, technology has miserably extended the working day to the point that the term “working day” feels like an anachronism. Is “working day” different from “working night”?

Cultish workplaces

Then there’s that demonstrably cultish attitude to work ushered in by American tech companies: recruitment ads demanding job candidates declare their passion for mundane tasks, murkily abstract discussions of “cultural fit”, even complaining about this stuff has been a full-on cliche for a while now.

To participate in certain apparently prestigious parts of the labour market, it is no longer enough to work for money. You must love it, be it, embrace the responsibility without the power. The separation of work and life is uncool and old-fashioned. White-collar employees must be ready to pose for social media photographs of all the gang wearing employer-branded T-shirts. Hobbies are best turned into fodder for cute website bios or just given up.

"Lower down the hierarchy, pressure on employees to represent their employers at all times, like walking worker-bots, may feel less benign, more binding." 

As it transpires, Donald White House hasn’t been reading Jennifer Government. Yesterday, he claimed he left out “Cook” on purpose as an “easy way” to save time. A total of 0.27 seconds was gained by doing so, according to Philip Washington Post.

The potential here is clearly amazing. In order to make America productive again, the logical next step is to ditch surnames completely and replace them with efficient corporate monikers. Anyone inconvenienced by this for whatever reason should talk to their line manager so any cynics, non-conformists and time-wasting heretics can be flushed out.

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