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Alt Text: Let's Lose the Murky Ambiguity of 'NSFW'

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Old 06-11-2008
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Alt Text: Let's Lose the Murky Ambiguity of 'NSFW'
It's time to retire the NSFW acronym and associated phrases. I've simply seen far too many electrons sacrificed in long, pointless arguments about what "not safe for work" means.
Whose work? Are you bleaching the hot tubs at Playboy Mansion or arranging candlelight vigils for Citizens Against Potty Mouths? Are you European? To hear some Europeans tell the story, everyone over there watches hard-core **** and smokes hashish between staff meetings where they discuss where to find the best **** and hashish.
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Most people end up taking one of two stances, each filling in important words. First, there are those who read the classic warning as "not safe for (my) work." These people are touchy. They're the first to dive into the comments and sear off your eyebrows for not realizing that some people have jobs where the boss does not look kindly on the word jockstrap. In fact, as far as I can tell, these people have such strict work policies that the only web activity they're allowed to do on company time is complain about improper blog post labeling.
Most people, however, read NSFW as "not safe for (the platonic ideal of) work." Apparently there's this archetypal concept of a workplace that exists in the universal consciousness, and you should consult the great mother mind before putting anything on the web. Of course, not everyone is hooked into the same plane of hyper-awareness, and thus you get arguments.
For instance: bikinis? Are photos of women in bikinis safe for work? What about one-piece bathing suits? Tight pants? I've seen someone argue that a cartoon of a fully-clothed wolf-lady in a turtleneck sweater and slacks was just too steamily erotic to be work-safe. (I don't know where the arguer worked, but I hope it wasn't the Disney Store.)
And then there are those sad, twitchy souls who get hung up on the work-safety of URLs. You could post a link to a recipe for baked chicken, but if the URL contained the word breasts, they'd be convinced they're going to be shoved roughly out the backdoor of the building, to be unemployed forever as each new workplace hears of the unforgivable sin of that fateful day when you ruined their life.
Now, I know geekfolk love their acronyms and all, but I'm tired of the whole stupid conflict. Maybe, possibly, we could agree that the scope and depth of human reaction to matters biological can't be flattened into a binary designation as if stomping on a soda can? Hell, even the Motion Picture Association of America has five different categories for the relative acceptability of a movie, and its system is arbitrary and biased. What makes us think we can get away with only work-safe and not work-safe?
Here's my cutting-edge solution: How about if we actually describe things? This isn't semaphore, people. Unless you routinely blog in the middle of a desperate escape from a burning building, you've got plenty of time to say something like: "Warning: visual depiction of pert nipples and raspberry jam" or "Beware: contains pictures of Drew Barrymore in a business suit, eating ice cream and giving the camera that look" or "Cuidado: cloacas!"
If we just added those extra few words, a few additional strikes of the keyboard, then everyone could make an informed, adult decision to look around real quick before clicking through, and people could stop complaining. Except for those URL guys -- they're hopeless.
- - -
Born helpless, nude and unable to provide for himself, Lore Sjöberg eventually overcame these handicaps to insist that NSFW is pronounced "nossfaw."


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