Language, Power and the Future

Are you here to help me or kill me?                            Image: Flickr/David Rodriguez Martin

Are you here to help me or kill me?                            Image: Flickr/David Rodriguez Martin

I wrote a piece for Quartz this past week about an issue that's been on my mind for a while: our growing inexactitude with language at a time when complexity and ambiguity are also increasing. The result is a more and more dense fog of confusion just when we need clarity of vision(s).

I picked on public use of the words "hacker," "drone," "algorithm," and "robot," but the list could have gone on and on. Phenomena such as search-engine optimization, the mad scramble for attention by a wider array of media, and an overall authority vacuum make it harder and harder to get, take, or use the time needed to properly define words and topics that are of major consequence. 

From the piece:

But “hackers,” “algorithms,” and to some extent “robots,” sit behind metaphorical — or actual — closed doors, where obscurity can benefit those who would like to use these terms, or exercise the realities behind them to their own benefit, though perhaps not to ours. We need better definitions, and more exact words, to talk about these things because, frankly, these particular examples are part of a larger landscape of “actors” which will define how we live in coming years, alongside other ambiguous terms like “terrorist,” or “immigrant,” about which clear discourse will only become more important.

As Rafael Osio Cabrices pointed out, this problem is compounded by the role English plays as a central, global language of technology and business, leaving other languages and cultures to deal with the semantic messes we create. The result? We stumble toward uncertain futures without a clear voice.

Thanks for the feedback and kind comments on this piece. I'm sure I'll come back to this theme again—it doesn't appear to be going anywhere soon.