Thursday, March 16, 2006

Quote: Bruce Sterling

When they work well, new words like spime are like new brooms. They're good for getting rid of the old words that have turned into dust. New words can sound silly or dangerous, like empty buzzwords, gobbledygook, hype, but this should be understood as the innate nature of language in fast-changing circumstances. Hype is a system-call on your attention. If hype clearly aimed straight at your wallet, you are right to worry. But hype is only bad for you if you drink it unthinkingly, by the barrel and case. If you soberly track its development, hype is very revealing. Even mistaken and obscurantist hype shows that people are stupid and trying to hide something, which are always good things to know.

In politics, the opposite of hype is political reality. Political hype is BS, it's a campaign speech, it's meant to deceive the listener. But in technology, the opposite of hype is not the truth. The opposite of hype in technology is argot. It's techno-jargon. Argot is not reality, jargon is not the truth. Argot is a super-specialized geek cult language that has no traction in the real world. Argot is the deliberately hermetic language of a small knowledge clique. A small clique likely doesn't have enough people in it to successfully name its own inventions and practices, especially when those inventions and practices emerge from their lab and spread widely throughout a general population. It takes a whole lot of people to manage a popular language. If you know how to watch you can see them at work. You can even just join right in.

address at Emerging Tech Conference, 2006

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