Monday, January 21, 2013

Changes in Terminology Never Stop

Let’s talk about words. Words that we still use but are starting to make less sense.  For example, I still use the word “tape” when talking about video, even when that video lives on a digital file, a DVD or even a BluRay disk.  I should probably migrate to the use of the more accurate and generic term, “video” but old habits die hard.  Blame changes in technology.

I still sporadically call the TV remote the “clicker,” harkening back to when the first remotes weren’t wireless and they made a clicking sound every time you pressed one of the buttons.

Here are some other words we not uncommonly use when another word may be better:

·         “Newspaper” even when we read it online;
·         “Album” even when it’s on a CD, iPod or MP3 file;
·         “Surf” the Internet even when the more common term is “browse;”
·         “Chat room” when the more current term is “online forum;” and
·         “Tape” as a verb instead of “record” or “capture.”

So much for our mistakes, but the constant changes to our terminology don’t necessarily mean that the new terminology is best or makes sense.  Here are some newly emerging terms:

·       “Event horizon” – a turning point in someone’s life.
·       “Big data” – the industry sector charged with gathering, processing, commercializing and using all of that data we’re putting online.  Big data is largely credited with the slow demise of privacy.  George Orwell preferred the term “Big Brother.”
·       “Apps,” which is short for “applications” that allow mobile and other devices to perform specific functions using custom software.
·       “Digital native” is a member of the generation that grew up on the Internet and all things digital, from iPods for music, to the use of the Internet instead of libraries and books for research.  Most took a class on computers in elementary and high school, and more than likely knew more than their adult instructors on the topic.
·       “The cloud” is a term used to describe the use of off-site information or data resources through the Internet.  You may take photos and store them on a server at a location somewhere across the country.  It’s even possible for certain networks to spread your information across several physical locations so that no matter what happens, if you have access to “the cloud” you have access to your information.
·       “Crowdsourcing” is when you take a task or project and instead of assigning or delegating it to a specific individual or group, you outsource it to an undefined group that is usually accessible via the Internet.  A typical application is to throw an idea out to an online group and ask them for their ideas.  Oftentimes, members of the group can see each other’s response and then build on it. 
·       “Generation Z” which is the demographic group of people to come after Generation Y. Generation Z consists of those born in 1996 or afterward.

These are just a few of the terms are starting to enter the general vocabulary.  They’ll creep into our own vocabularies.  Language will continue to evolve, but one thing that cannot be guaranteed is that the new terms will always meet the most basic purpose of words – achieving clarity and understanding. 

That’s one of the first things I learned in college when I encountered an “event horizon” that led me to study journalism.

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