I remember as a kid I often had to consult that dreaded dictionary to find out what some words meant.
“Why don’t you just tell me?” I’d ask.
“So you can find other words too,” a teacher would reply, and the page flipping would begin with a sigh.
Learning a new word was quite the process not too long ago. It involved getting up, locating the dictionary, thinking of how to spell the word, finding out where that would put it in the alphabetically organised pages, and then to understand that definition- which sometimes meant looking up another word.
As a kid, the dictionary wasn’t a friend, but today, I find myself thinking more and more about words, their definitions and associations.
I can’t remember the last time I picked up a physical copy of a dictionary, but as these pages expand in an ever accelerated succession, who defines these new words and how does that affect the way we understand and use technology?
As the role of defining sways from poets and literary pros, to scientists and sellers in a capitalist economy, I wonder what affect this has on how we understand and therefore use technologies that companies sell to us in the time span of a glimpse of advert placed by a well thought out algorithm, to a 30 second video clip that is highly likely to be scrolled over. If it’s important we’ll hear about it later no?
This is one of the very rare times I say something without consulting statistics of some sort, but I believe I can say with confidence that it is not dictionaries, but brand associations, advertisements and word of mouth that play the lead role in defining the new technologies of today.
For example, what first two thoughts comes to mind as you read the following words: apple, drone, virtual reality, augmented reality.
Apple: I imagine you think of the computer yes? Of a sleek design with fast processing? Stylish and high tech., or something like that.
Drone: Do you think of photography? Package delivery? Bombing?
Virtual Reality: Do you think of entertainment? Gaming? Of exploring alternate locations? Of education and training?
Augmented Reality: Do you think of entertainment? Assisted shopping? Military applications?
As a brand, Apple has invested millions into curating specific brand associations. As a product with many variations, a drone has both positive and negative associations. As a technology, VR is understood primarily as equipment to access various forms of entertainment.
AR on the other hand: what’s that? What’s the difference between AR and VR? These are usually the associations I encounter when discussing this technology, and this is where I have the opportunity to offer a definition that could have a significant affect.
Let’s say, for example, that 50% of school kids are introduced to AR as an entertainment technology, 25% learn only of its military applications, and the remaining 25% are taught that AR is used to create virtual assistants. In these distinct categories, these children are likely to focus primarily on associations related to how they are taught to understand AR.
Just as in a situation where we learn a new word, these circumstances under which we first encounter a new technology becomes its primary associations. And, these associations, just as how we think of MacDonald’s (as either a strong yum or yuk), are likely to have a significant and lasting affect on our future approach to this tech.
As I consider these points; the rapid acceleration of technological innovation, our use of tech. and the way we define it, I try to understand how this influences the direction we take as a social collective. With thoughts to the future, let’s be aware of how technology is presented to us, but also of all its other potentials.
-food for thought-
This post was inspired by the reviewing of a receipt this week. At the bottom, I encountered the following lines; total, followed by government cut. I reacted quite strongly to the looming digits across from government cut. As I looked around, I imagined what could be done with these cuts. There was not much to inspire.
I’ll admit it took me a second to realize that government cut refereed to tax. I was too distracted by the sudden sense of distaste. Tax is a word encountered on a day to day basis, a concept I already understand. However, this new labeling completely altered my reaction. I wonder, would you react in a similar way if ‘tax’ were to be replaced with ‘government cut’ on all receipts?
In the tech., age of tweets and short posts, it’s certain still that words have not lost their power to influence.
Ps. The Giver, a book by Lois Lowry, is a fantastic read and a good example of how vocabulary profoundly affects our views and understanding of the world.