Lagging Terminology

Looking back on television commercials, you get the sense that advertising had yet to master this new medium. TV commercials were really just radio advertisements with pictures put to them. The domination of narration subsumes the visuals. All the noise you hear from the intro commercial to this post is from the narrator. The actions of the children there are Charlie Chaplin silent.

Converting from one era to another always befuddles humanity.

Take for instance Matthew Kirchsenbaum who observes the lag of terminology and practice with relation to hard drives and “writing”:

The commonplace is to speak of writing a file to a disk; to say writing “on” a disk sounds vaguely wrong, the speech of someone who has not yet assimilated the relevant vocabulary or concepts. We write on paper, but we write to a magnetic disk (or tape)…

…the preposition of choice, “to,” becomes a marker for our intuition that the verb “write” is not altogether appropriate, a rough fit at best.

Kirchsenbaum spends most of his article creating accurate terms and definitions of this brave new digital world. However, we are still beholden to archaic rough fits when it comes to terminology. In Microsoft World, the save icon is still a floppy disk despite that method of storage being relegated to digital dustbin. Computers are routinely infected with viruses or beset with bugs. Until recently iTunes, the largest purveyor of (legal) MP3/digital music used a compact disc in its logo. That’s indeed a rough fit at best.

But, we’re forever adopting new inventions and forever attempting to make sense of them.

In basketball, the painted area where players are restricted is still called the “key” because once upon a time it did resemble a keyhole. Widening the lane has yet to destroy our rough terminology. The first “basketball” used by James Naismith was in fact an old beat up soccer ball. The basket we now use is in no way shape or form an actual basket. What kind of basket actually has an open hole at its bottom?

Kirchsenbaum predicts that our filing systems on computers will soon be antiquated:

As data mining and pattern recognition technology improves and becomes ubiquitous, discrete folders will seem as antiquated and forlorn as yesterday’s manila. The kind of serendipitous discovery of old files and applications recounted in Microserfs will become a function of the fluke search result, not manual tidying.
But if we can’t stop calling an iron rim with an open net a basket, I doubt we’ll stop calling our beloved digitized data files.
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