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Of Saphir and Whorf

SanityInAnarchy (655584) writes | more than 5 years ago

User Journal 2

I think I finally "get" Web 2.0.

It occurred to me when I started talking about The Cloud -- both loving the idea, and hating myself for using such an obvious buzzword. But I think I get it now.

It's about language.

Read 1984. And read about the Saphir-Whorf hypothesis. Maybe you'll see it, too -- our use of language has a profound impact on how we see the world.

I think I finally "get" Web 2.0.

It occurred to me when I started talking about The Cloud -- both loving the idea, and hating myself for using such an obvious buzzword. But I think I get it now.

It's about language.

Read 1984. And read about the Saphir-Whorf hypothesis. Maybe you'll see it, too -- our use of language has a profound impact on how we see the world.

There was a great story about how, when Europeans first came to America, some of the natives actually couldn't see the ships, because it was like nothing they'd ever seen before. They didn't have a word, or a frame of reference, for the huge cloud-like things they saw on the horizon -- so they just didn't see them.

I kind of doubt that story is true, but I do think it applies. How long did dynamic websites exist, with the ability for users to alter content, and no one "got it", until we started calling it "Web 2.0"? How long did virtualization exist -- how long did CPU-power-on-demand services exist -- and, while there was some buzz about virtualization, no one really got it until we started calling it The Cloud.

This isn't new -- it's existed, really, as long as abstract concepts have existed, because language is the medium through which we understand and communicate abstract concepts. For an obvious-example, take "Pro-Choice" vs "Abortionist" (or "Baby-Killer!"), and "Pro-Life" vs "Anti-Abortionist" (or "Woman-Hater!"). Quite often, people make the mistake of using the opposition's language in their argument, trying to show its flaws, but really, that only strengthens their argument. Who really wants to argue against choice, or life?

It's not always a good thing, and we should not always embrace new language. But neither should we be so quick to dismiss it as a "buzzword" -- after all, the Internet itself is perhaps the godfather of the modern buzzword. What we're really talking about is just another network -- which is really just a bunch of computers with wires running between them -- but now that we know it's something called "The Internet", our view changes, and it really becomes a world-changing phenomenon.

Understand: Not just appears to be, or appears to become. A random network of computers cannot change the world. The Internet can and has.

I now understand why RMS and friends insist on calling it "GNU/Linux", though I still don't agree with it. But you see... RMS understands the power of language.

(Edit: This could probably be applied to Memetic Engineering, if we ever implement that concept. The Anti-Meme would have to be very clearly defined in language for it to work.)

2 comments

Pro (2, Funny)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | more than 5 years ago | (#24588425)

For an obvious-example, take "Pro-Choice" vs "Abortionist" (or "Baby-Killer!"), and "Pro-Life" vs "Anti-Abortionist" (or "Woman-Hater!").

Instead of using the word Pro-Choice in relation with Pro-Life, I prefer to use the term "Pro-Death". It has some comedic value and it also properly balances the relationship in not so candy-coated terms.

Re:Pro (2, Insightful)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 5 years ago | (#24593247)

Instead of using the word Pro-Choice in relation with Pro-Life

I was being fair to both sides, by using their own terminology. I didn't want to turn this into an Abortion debate. But since you asked...

I prefer to use the term "Pro-Death". It has some comedic value

Well, if you find dead fetuses funny, I suppose...

and it also properly balances the relationship in not so candy-coated terms.

So it's now between "Pro-Life" and "Pro-Death"? Which has spun this into, on the surface, a very pro-life argument, since it makes it difficult for others to say "Pro-Death". Given more depth, it's a false dichotomy -- you can't have life without death, or vice versa.

But if you're really only seeking to remove the "candy-coating", and focus on the grittier aspects, let's call the other side "Pro-Overpopulation". Or "Pro-Poverty". Or how about "Pro-Agony"?

I do think this proves my point, though.

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