New Words for New Worlds
I was (very generously) invited to attend Yale Anthropology’s conference on Mixed Realities: Ethnographic Approaches to the Virtual.
As the only “corporate” at the workshop (non-PhD), it was endlessly fascinating to hear academia’s approach to our cultural grey: the space in-between the digital and physical.
And in that sentence laid the most interesting, buried insight to the entire gathering of the world’s leading anthropologists and sociologists:
Our mere struggle with expression.
We are rigorously articulating something that does not exist, yet does: the digital.
There is no such thing as “online vs. real life”... all life is real. And there is no “virtual reality.” All experienced reality is real.
We know very well that actions online have offline consequences, and away from keyboard experiences inform our online actions.
There is no divide...
But then how do we effectively distinguish our experiences mediated through emerging, foreign technologies?
Here lies the mess.
Over the two days of the conference I began to note (and draft a taxonomy) of our inconsistent vocabulary describing our confusing, blurry moment.
All the words below are related within the category — and each bullet has it’s own theme of similarity
Audience vs. Following vs. Community
Network vs. Masses
Internal vs. External
Private vs. Public
Open vs. Closed
Friend vs. Follower vs. Connection vs. Receiver
Peer-to-Peer vs. One-to-Many
Self vs. Avatar vs. User
Character vs. Actor vs. Mask
Person vs. Body vs. Human vs. Meta-Human
Influencer vs. Creator vs. Artist vs. Virtual Influencer
Node vs. ID
Name vs. Account vs. Real Name vs. Handle vs. Username
Troll vs. Bot vs. Army vs. Mob
Mediate vs. Express vs. Reflect
Communicate vs. Voice
Engage vs. Participate vs. Interact
Broadcast vs. Stream vs. Transmit
Post vs. Publish vs. Share vs. Send vs. Text vs. Message
Perform vs. Positon vs. Posture vs. Act
Visit vs. Enter vs. Browse vs. Scroll vs. Navigate
Download vs. Upload
Click vs. Tap
Add vs. Follow vs. Connect
Post vs. Content
Tweet vs. Update vs. Status
Text vs. Chat vs. DM vs. Message
Meme vs. Lore
Info vs. Data vs. Media
Image vs. Picture vs. Screenshot
Video vs. Stream vs. Movie vs. Show vs. Episode vs. Series
Song vs. Stream
File vs. Folder
Download vs. Upload
Presence vs. vs. Present vs. Past
Live vs. Real-Time vs. Near-Real-Time
Archive vs. Permanent vs. Ephemeral
Space vs. Environment
Channel vs. Platform vs. Medium vs. Screen
Feed vs. Timeline vs. Homepage
Network vs. Global Village vs. World
Internet vs. Browser vs. Web vs. Cyberspace
Page vs. Address vs. Site vs. Tab
Metaverse vs. Multiverse
Game vs. Market vs. Town Square
Digital Reality vs. Reality
Real Life vs. Real World vs. Meat Space vs. Away From Keyboard
Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality vs. Mixed Reality
Real vs. Fake vs. Genuine vs. Simulate vs. Actual
Technological vs. Analog vs. Alternative
Remote vs. Here
Online vs. Offline
Blur vs. Immerse vs. Intersect vs. Bridge vs. Switch
...A robust list, yet still incomplete.
“Mixed Reality” could be interpreted as a technological mix — a reality obstructed by hardware and software. Something physical. Sensory.
However, I’m more interested in our ideological mixed reality. One where we — emotionally, mentally — are not on the same page.
We each experience reality differently from one another.
And in this interpretation, language plays a critical role.
On one hand: One can review all of these words and conclude: we’re set. We’ve got plenty of metaphors, abstractions and descriptions to communicate what we’re experiencing here.
But on the other — and where I’m left thinking — maybe we have so many words because we don’t have the right ones.
Maybe we’re left with so many interchangeable phrases to describe “online” because we struggle to define new experience with antiquated terms.
We’re grasping for language to describe a phenomena which did not exist until very, very recently.
Maybe what we need are new words for new worlds.
So... Make up a word and see if it fits or sticks.
We already have so many.
Another won’t hurt.
Might be a bit unnecessarily esoteric in ways, but we should have a convo about Richard Rorty and his understanding of "vocabularies." I'm re-reading his seminal text Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity right now (due to listening to Kevin Munger on the New Models podcast) and I think his way of understanding how language to describe novelty moves from the metaphorical to the everyday is what you're hunting for. Maybe.
Good morning Mr. Klein,
Thank you for your all inspiring Zine. I'm a new Substacker. Zine is my very first Subscription.
I've always been influenced by those that invent new words; my first being, of all people, "Ringo Starr". I'm writing a follow up to your " Make up a Word", Called " Preservation of Cultures". I look forward to reading and listening to your Blog.