There was a good editorial in the NY Times that related the power a couple of simple words can have in fomenting a revolution.
The cited example was "Carbon Footprint." In the piece "Some Doubts Upon Entering a New Carboniferous Era," Verlyn Klinkenborg describes how these two words have had a dramatic impact on how we think and talk about global warming. Verlyn wrote:
Has any phrase in the English language ever spread more quickly than
“carbon footprint”? There are contenders … but they don’t reflect the potential revolution in consciousness that
carbon footprint suggests. …[It] captures
something we’ve never really had a simple phrase for before: the
measurable totality of … what your way of life actually costs the planet.
You feel as though you’re reducing global warming by saying it…. Which is why advertisers are saying it everywhere…
The swiftness of this change in consciousness — and the linguistic
change that goes with it — is staggering. And a little worrying.
The takeaway message is cautionary and cynical. Verlyn urges the reader not to place too much equity in the phrase, and mocks the companies that have co opted it in their marketing.
Yet the bigger point – that word choice can really alter how we act and think, and what would seem to be an otherwise trivial decision like pairing two words together can have drastic implications – is spot on, and this led me to wonder whether there are some analogous terms in the realm of IT that have led to a revolution in our world views.
Two that come to mind are Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing. Both are amorphous. There are no standards or well-defined specs that define either. Although many vendors are riding these trends, no buyer goes to a website or the IT store to buy Web 2.0 or cloud computing.
The staying power of Web 2.0 has been pretty amazing. One would think we would have upgraded to Web 3.0 by now (see my previous post for some reasons I think this has not happened).
Seemingly more a philosophy then hard tech, the ideas behind Web 2.0 have gone on to spawn all types of 2.0 offshoots: Collaboration 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Government 2.0, etc.
Cloud computing seems to be rising quickly (no pun intended), replacing earlier terms like utility computing, on-demand, grid computing, etc. It seems to be stickier, maybe because the idea of drawing computing resources from the sky paints such as pretty picture, and lends itself to nice metaphors and imagery. It is a convenient and compelling device.
Of course, the phrase Carbon Footprint itself is not removed from IT (see my post It IS Easy Being Green in Tech). However, there (at least to my knowledge) have not been any new phrases specifically for IT in this realm that so neatly and compellingly describe the greening of the data center.
Also, it can be kind of a chicken or egg question. Did the revolutions come first, and tech terms follow along, or were the words instrumental in advancing thinking and hence tech development?
What are your thoughts? Are there other tech terms that sparked revolutions in tech?