Lost in Translation

September 16, 2014 | By | 10 Replies More

BxRGjhGIUAAwcvO.jpg largeThe first guest post I wrote for WWWB was about me (you can read it here) but this time, it’s kind of about everyone else.

And so it begins. The name of my book is Lost in Translation. It has my name on the cover, but for now that’s irrelevant. I’ve lived with that title for the last few months, and it has got me more than thinking about the phrase. I’ve never seen the film, which doesn’t mean that I don’t love Bill Murray, I just haven’t ever gotten around to it. And I’m sure that other books share a title with me, but I haven’t read them.

What I have actually been thinking about is how much of you and me—how much of everybody—is lost in translation these days. Lost over the internet, lost in the internet. Thanks to this barrier of broadband and fibre-optic splendour, we can read people however we want to, and we can write ourselves in whatever way too.

Because although think you can translate yourself onto the screen the way you actually are, there’s absolutely no guarantee that anyone else will read it how you intended. Most of what makes you up, I’m sure, get’s lost. How can you explain how unique and magical you are in pixels? I’m not sure that you can. People can only tell me how great my hugs are if they receive them in person, and I can only notice that new shaving scar if I’m sitting right next to you.


It’s all too easy to type words that you wouldn’t quite have the guts to say aloud, not only because you’re distanced from their consequences, but also because those words you’re so proud of writing? They never actually left your lips. Try reading your most-personal-blog-post-ever aloud, and I’m sure some of what you wrote will make you squirm. Does it even count? Do those thoughtful messages mean so much less than if I’d told you in person? Probably. In a way, most of it remains unsaid.

I’m going to leave a quote here, from Humans of New York: “I’m learning to be more careful with my words. Words that seem meaningless at the time can end up having a lot of power. Seeds that you didn’t even intend to plant can fall off you and start growing in people.”

What we read online is filtered through our own heads, which may make it more personal in some places, but most of the time, I think it just leaves people very confused. The internet lies, all the time, but most of us believe that it speaks the truth—at least in the places we expect. That fact about panda bears and Nelson Mandela’s birthplace? Well it must be true, it simple must.

Actually information gets lost, spectacularly lost. I’m imagining it like some kind of internet cosmos, where nearly all of what’s floating around is entirely useless to you—that, or it’s not going to do you much good. You’d be searching for a pretty long time to find what you were looking for, and even then, where’s the guarantee that you haven’t just picked up a pretend moon rock? There isn’t. There are far too many first, second, and third person accounts of what happened to come to an easy conclusion.


I’m not saying that the internet isn’t beautiful, it is. My god it’s beautiful. I mean, everyday I discover maybe hundreds of slightly useless pieces of information that probably aren’t correct or trustworthy. But isn’t it great? Isn’t it great that I wouldn’t need to speak to real people for days, weeks, and still have a community? Honestly. And it’s amazing that us mere mortals can have such immediate access to paintings and literature and history that we wouldn’t have otherwise, and in such a limitless way.

Lost in translation a bit more.

What the internet is made up of, it’s astonishing. But isn’t it slightly concerning that such a young internet, such an unformed internet, has created so many miscommunications already? Done so much damage to both the innocent and the guilty?

54060485a5a7650f3959dcd4_ella-francesPeople don’t have to think. They just do. And anyone who moves slower than 22 MB/s is left struggling to keep up, and is just left paddling behind like a labrador that doesn’t really know how to swim. Change is a thought-provoking thing for humans anyway, but at this speed? It’s frightening.

Think about it. We just aren’t designed to absorb and process this much information. A man, whose name I cannot remember, compared it in a recent interview to having tennis balls thrown at you. We could catch two, maybe three or four at most. But the internet is like having hundreds upon thousands of tennis balls thrown at you every damn second, and there’s just no way you’re going to be catching them all.

I tried to make this an upbeat post, but it’s difficult to finish on a good note, and it was difficult to find good notes in the middle. However, there is good in here, and I think the key is probably getting good at sifting. Sifting out the stuff, the nonsense, that you don’t want and will never need, and only try to let the funny, good, beautiful, and informative side of the internet drop through the tiny metal mesh of your sieve. It will likely be worth it.

This was a very long-winded way of telling you that I’m a person who has just had a book published, and I believe it to be something beautiful enough that you can it let fall into your head.

Ella Frances Sanders is a writer and illustrator who intentionally lives all over the place, most recently Morocco, the UK, and Switzerland. She likes to create books with real pages while drawing freelance things for charming people, and she is not afraid of questions or bears.

FInd out more about Ella on her website ellafrancessanders.com Follow her on  pinterest  ellafsanders or twitter @ellafsanders

Lost in translation, an illustrated compendium of untranslatable words from around the world is out now. Buy it here



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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, On Writing

Comments (10)

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  1. Trish says:

    I love this! So true and so eloquently put.

    I wish you guys had a share button so the post can be easily shared. Maybe I missed? I will share with my network 🙂

  2. Congrats on publishing your new book Frances!
    And yes, I do think that a lot of what I intend to pass across in my articles end up getting misinterpreted…I wrote an article a while back and the comments made me cringe.i was wondering if the same article I wrote was what was read.

    I am really grateful for the gift of the Internet and having information and community at my finger tips but I sieve and sieve the information being thrown at me before letting anything in.it can all be too overwhelming sometimes…

  3. Mary Rowen says:

    This post really makes me think, Ella. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge, and data, and emotion, and everything that I can access, just by opening my laptop. It’s like every time I click on something, another world opens up. And then the dog reminds me that it’s time to take him out and we go into the real world and it’s just amazing. I look at the trees and the cars and the squirrels and it all seems so much simpler and easier to navigate. Some days I’m happy about the changes in technology, and others, I sort of wish we could go back.

    Congratulations on your book launch!

    • Ella Frances Sanders says:

      Mary—overwhelmed is most definitely the word to use. I agree with you completely… sometimes it’s nice to not open the laptop and deny the existence of the internet! I’d say navigation is near on impossible, and I think most of us just end up getting quite lost in these darn interwebs. But thank you! I’m glad that people seem to be liking the book!

  4. This reminds me of something I just heard on the radio “there’s so much information it’s like having no information.” That’s how it feels sometimes and you captured it beautifully. I actually had to sit down the other day and write a social media policy for myself. I’d just signed up for a Twitter account and could feel myself being pelted by the tennis balls you wrote about. We hear we must be on twitter, on facebook, on pinterest, on dasher on dancer on prancer and vixen…sometimes I just want to be off. It’s like a super powerful magnet that sucks you in and you have to forcefully pull away.

    It’s great to know there are others out there feeling the same things!

    • Ella Frances Sanders says:

      Thank you Suzanne, it’s true that there are just far too many social media portals just waiting for you to fall into them. A social media policy isn’t a bad idea! I suppose otherwise we just completely lose track of all those hours of life we spend there, which is usually too many for most people.

  5. Susan Baker says:

    “Sifting out the stuff, the nonsense, that you don’t want and will never need, and only try to let the funny, good, beautiful, and informative side of the internet drop through the tiny metal mesh of your sieve.”

    Lovely, and so important.

  6. Marialena says:

    What a fabulous blog post! Thank you, Ella. It resonates very deeply with me, at this point in time where I have pulled back from social media, not that I had been very deeply involved or for very long. As beautiful as it is to discover information, images, and people online, the speed- as you put it so well- can be overwhelming. Your beautiful framing through the concept of translation is very apt.

    Congratulations on your book launch. I love the idea that Lost in Translation might fall on my head, but I won’t leave it up to chance. I cannot imagine a more delightful way to celebrate our differences and similarities than with your drawings accompanying poetic words that sometimes are lost in translation.

    • Ella Frances Sanders says:

      Marialena, thank you for such kind words! I think it’s such an interesting thing… translation is such a slippery thing. I’m actually reading David Bellos’ book ‘Is That a Fish in Your Ear?’ at the moment, and it’s superbly interesting. I think you’d really enjoy it, if you haven’t already!

      And THANK YOU, it has been such a whirlwind of everything, but I’m really enjoying the chaos.

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