How technology is changing the English language


As a writer, and a language and writing teacher, I’m aware that all languages evolve and change over time. Terms and phrases that mean one thing to one generation, mean something entirely different to another—or in some cases, have no meaning at all.

But, I’ve noticed lately that technology is changing the language at almost light speeds so that terms that are still in use in their original form have tech-related uses that sometimes makes it hard to follow a conversation, or employ terms that seem on the surface to be familiar, but in fact, are meaningless.

Take the term bluetooth, just for example. It describes a wireless technology that allows data exchange between devices without physical contact over distances of up to ten meters. The developer of the technology proposed the name based on the tenth century king of Denmark, Harold Bluetooth, because he was famous for uniting Scandinavia. I very much doubt that the vast majority of people who use the technology are aware of this—or perhaps don’t even care, but as someone who loves words, it bugged me until I found out.

Same thing with the BlackBerry, one of the first interactive smart phones, which was chosen from forty potential names because the keyboard buttons resembled the little beads that make up a blackberry fruit.

Recently, though, I’ve started running into technology terms that stump me and cause some interesting hiccups in conversations. I was involved not too long ago in filming a promotional video to promote instruction for a private school that I occasionally for. The filming was done with i-Phones and at the end, the director said, “Let’s go outside for the air drop,” or at least, that’s what I thought heard.

Now, I spent twenty years in the army, and was a paratrooper, so the term air drop, which is still in use, has a very clear and specific meaning to me, and in the context of the director’s words, ‘go outside,’ an image developed in my mind, and I was instantly confused. You see, we were in downtown Washington, DC, and I couldn’t fathom why or how they were going to conduct an air drop there, or how they were getting permission for a plane to parachute anything into the city, which is mostly a restricted air zone.

When I looked befuddled and asked, I was blithely informed that AirDrop™ was a proprietary file sharing technology that enable the transfer of files between Apple devices, and they were going outside where there was a clearer Wi-Fi signal to transfer the videos from the three i-Phones we’d used to a computer for editing.

Imagine how red faced I was to receive that bit of information. I’m not an Apple user, except for an i-Pad that I use about once a year, and my smart phone is uses Android, which is not compatible with Apple, so this was my introduction to the technology and the new term it had dropped into the English language, causing lack of comprehension between Apple and non-Apple users.

Technology has transformed out language profoundly, and we often don’t even recognize it. For instance, we Google people when we look up information about them online, even if the search engine used is not Google.

Verbing of tech company names has become rampant. This is but one example of the intrusion of technology on the way we speak, and by extension, the way we think. It’s done it so rapidly, though, that a conversation of today would’ve been incomprehensible to most of us as recently as the year 2000, a mere quarter of a century ago.

For example, ‘would you inbox me?’ meaning get in touch, would not have meant that 20 or so years ago. As a matter of fact, because the average person couldn’t fit into the average inbox on someone’s desk, that phrase would probably never have been uttered.

I rant and rave, but I’m a realist. Technology has hacked our language and there is no fix to debug it. We’ll all just have to learn to upload the new language faster to avoid being dropped from the network. | NWI