THE INFORMATION AGE SHRUGGED
If you had to describe it, what stage of the information age are we in?
Pondering this while running a cursory google search for some quick information served as the impetus for this essay. Following up on something that caught my eye during a documentary I knew that I’d have dig through the results a little bit. The topic was a figure from WWII and some of his exploits after the war. Due to some recent news the searches were only pulling from stories going back to 2015 (within the first 5 pages) and not coming close to stories that provided the information I was seeking. By altering the date settings I eventually found more on the topic. Through this exercise I realized something, Google search is “flattening,” time. Studies show that people don’t often go beyond the first few pages of search results, in fact, Google hopes that your answer is the first result shown to you. With the myriad of articles these days routed through AMP, AP, and Reuters, based on templates, you’ll get literally hundreds of articles based not only on the same topic, but sharing very similar text and story lines.
As a society have we hurtled past the actual desire to know things, and now are in the “utilization or implementation” stage of the Information Age? Never before has the world known as much nor had as much information available to the layman as right now. Yet the signs that, not only are we NOT smarter as a human society, but the wide availability of so much data actually tends to cause people to huddle into information silos. Awash in waves of data, opinions, facts, fake news and alternative realities, the root of all human imagery is the most under attack. That root lies in words. I heard someone say once that “Language is a technology that man uses to trap Time.” Through the act of delineating time via the use of language with terms such as past, present, future, and then planning, wading through and finally arriving at that “time” Man has trapped it, and himself, in language. Breaking time down into vocabulary is actually what created the tableau of time upon which Man measures the past, experiences the present and plans for the future. What is the technology of language being used to do in the Information Age?
I would posit that we are at the realization stage of this Era, where it becomes evident that the Information Age is about one’s ability to discern the true meaning of scenarios and even terms on your own amidst the maelstrom of words and images coming our way with no end in sight.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF MEANING
George Orwell famously wrote, “It’s a beautiful thing the destruction of words.” In this stage of the so-called Information Age that statement rings truer than ever before. Neologisms flood our world and bring with them variants on historical thought, culture and human nature. Intellectualists have always bumped heads with others concerning a perceived elitism regarding intellectual pursuits. One of these pursuits is colloquially referred to as being a “Word or Grammar Nazi.” Such pejoratives are usually deployed to silence the speaker, belittle their point and alienate them from the debate’s observers. However in a language like English the actual definition of a word can not be ignored. The problem is that it can take a quite erudite person to engage and defuse such tactics in open conversations. Part of the Information Age’s effect on language has been the introduction and major of use of terms related to computing, commerce, and political actions. These terms naturally have embedded themselves into the minds of the users and in many ways created tableaus more in line with what the powers that be would like for us all to be thinking and saying.
Languages work in many ways and English is a language where the specific meanings are encoded in specific words. Contrast this with the German language which utilizes compound or multi-syllabic words which communicate a statement. For example, shadenfreude, which is defined as, “is the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another.” The term is a compound of Schaden ‘damage, harm’ and Freude ‘joy.’ In English we’d probably say the person was evil, a hater, or petty. Yet one can glean from the usage that shadenfreude includes a sense of righteous ‘hating,’ to a degree and that the joy taken from other’s failure is deserved. Therefore it’s akin to celebrating the hubris or arrogance which lead to the failure of a foe.
An example of definitional complexity in English is found in the term, palimpsest, which means “a manuscript page, either from a scroll or a book, from which the text has been scraped or washed off so that the page can be reused for another document.” Another example would be some walls that contain hieroglyphics in Egypt. Modern scholars have found their prior views to have been misinterpretations of symbols due to the realization that some marks had been scratched out and written over producing designs which our era then mis-read. Walls in ancient Egypt were palimpsests. While you can take the time to describe this concept, if the word is understood by your audience you can save time and space, as well as use the term symbolically and literarily to create further meaning. Colloquial English generally remains divorced from higher level academic and technical English via this mechanism of higher order concepts being encapsulated in advanced ‘terminology.’
HOW WORDS WORK
A study of language in any depth soon uncovers the manner in which all languages continually change and evolve. Slang notwithstanding many terms end up ‘meaning’ something they weren’t intended to. This happens because of the manner in which words and their definitions tend to be treated in our daily lives.
There are three ways in which word meanings are used and understood:
(1) a standard or dictionary meaning,
(2) a colloquial or “average person” meaning and
(3) how the term is used during political or public speaking.
In our times these three layers of meaning are all used quite often due to the high level of media technology and the speed and reach of social media outlets. We are bombarded with a cascade of words and meaning on nearly a minute by minute basis. And while many people today are more aware of media bias, spin and even psychological operations, we can see as the vitriol and debates continue to rise, folks still are not on the same page. Partisanship, especially in the U.S., has promoted further group segmentation, creation of vernacular, and manners of speech meant to connote one’s allegiance to some ideological faction or another. Disturbingly people seem to be more focused on their own lexicon rather than noticing how there has been a national creep towards anti-intellectual discourse.
WORDS HAVE MEANING?
Words have always been weaponized and used as barricades to understanding. A subtle trick of the use of ‘words’ in this stage of the Information Age has been push to use abbreviations of headlines and media speech. This reason this matters is due to the influential part media has to play in colloquial speech these trends invariable become encoded in our language and the catalog of how history is verbally negotiated. Abbreviations serve to communicate a series of words more quickly, yet it also has the effect of minimizing the scope of the matter.
As many a ritual and verbal affirmation across cultures require, the ‘saying of the name,’ the delegating of that action also has an unseen effect. Saying POTUS instead of the President of the United States creates the feeling of big cartoony icon buttons with rounded corners on your iPhone update versus old attempts by Microsoft to look sharp and futuristic with clean straight lines and drab blue and grey default options. OBL just doesn’t sting like Ossama Bin Laden. Watching a journalist or politician say it almost can feel like a comical way of dancing around saying the name of a local bully. These abbreviations and buzz word embed themselves into the architecture of speech and slowly push anti-intellectualism to the fore in our discourse. This happens as the result of simplifying issues and ideas into memes and quips produces very few results, let alone truly enlightening debate or discourse.
At the level below the voices of the media and the State, rival intellectual factions have always had their own code words and vocabularies. In our current age the interplay of social media promotion and cable news networks fanning the flames of partisanship by the winds of gusts they create attempting to keep up with new truth of online news preeminence, coalesce into purposeful Orwellian attempts at word alternation in real time. Certain groups attempt to repurpose invectives from Trump into slogans, terms like “woke” are used by numerous factions both in mocking and duplicitous ways. In addition you’ll notice blatant Orwellianisms like “Patriot Acts,” “Regime Change,” and “Humanitarian Interventions,” applied to legally repugnant legislature, military backed coups, and preemptive wars, funneling into the speech patterns of regular men and women on the street. Once couldn’t ask for a greater infiltration of thought through language than to have someone who claims they are a lover of peace defending one President’s “wars of humanitarian intervention,” as more just than a President’s wars for “regime change,” and “nation building.” Over the years the media has injected evermore terms from the worlds of advertisers, corporate financiers and the military that many of us speak in the voices of the those entities without knowing it. How does one express disagreement with the powers that be when you’ve subtly become to communicating amongst yourselves in their language?
To be continued…