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Just How Big Is the Impact of Technology on Society?
To comprehend the impact of technology on today’s society, you don’t have to look very far. In fact, you can probably just look around you. Someone is talking on a smartphone or sending a text message. Someone is listening to music on an MP3 player. Someone else is surfing the Web.
A different perspective is to study how technology has impacted our language. And to do that, you can look to new words that have been added to the English language according to University Oxford Press and its annual list of newly recognized words for the English language. Let’s start with the year 2005 and move forward through 2010. (In the lists below, we’ve provided the definitions for only technology-related new words.)
New Word of the Year: Podcast—a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player.
Runners-Up for 2005
ICE—an entry stored in one’s cellular phone that provides emergency contact information
IDP (internally displaced person)
IED (improvised explosive device)
Persistent vegetative state
Rootkit—software installed on a computer by someone other than the owner, intended to conceal other programs or processes, files, or system data
New Word of the Year: Carbon neutral—calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset.
Runners-Up for 2006
CSA (community-supported agriculture)
DRM—digital rights management
New Word of the Year: Locavore—a person who focuses on eating only locally grown food.
Runners-Up for 2007
Aging in place
Bacn—e-mail notifications, such as news alerts and social networking updates, that are considered more desirable than unwanted spam
Cloudware—online applications, such as webmail, powered by massive data storage facilities, also called cloud servers
Colony collapse disorder
Social graph—the network of one’s friends and connections on social Web sites such as Facebook and Myspace
New Word of the Year: Hypermiling—an attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one’s car and one’s driving techniques.
Page 281Runners-Up for 2008
Topless meeting—a meeting in which the participants are barred from using their laptops, Blackberries, smartphones, etc.
Link bait—content on a Web site that encourages (baits) a user to place links to it from other Web sites
Tweet—a short message sent via the Twitter service, using a smartphone or other mobile device
New Word of the Year: Unfriend—to remove someone as a “friend” on a social networking site such as Facebook.
Runners-Up for 2009
Hashtag—a # sign added to a word or phrase on Twitter
Intexticated—distracted because of texting on a smartphone while driving a vehicle
Netbook—a small, very portable laptop computer with limited memory
Paywall—a way of blocking access to a part of a Web site which is only available to paying subscribers
Sexting—the sending of sexually explicit texts and pictures by smartphone
New Word of the Year: Refudiate—used loosely to mean reject (a Sarah Palin faux paux).
Runners-Up for 2010
Crowdsourcing—practice whereby an organization enlists a variety of freelancers, paid or unpaid, to work on a specific task or problem
Retweet—repost or forward a message posted by another user on Twitter
Webisode—an original episode derived from a television series, made for online viewing
You can perform some interesting analyses with the above information. For example, the new words of the year for the last six years have been in only three categories: political (2010), the environment with three; and technology with two—podcast (2005) and unfriend (2009). Furthermore, of the 72 runner-up words in the last six years, 17 or roughly 24 percent have been technology-related.
1. Visit University Oxford Press at http://global.oup.com/?cc=us. For all years after 2010, find the new word of the year and all the runner-up words. Perform the simple analysis we presented in the final paragraph above. How has technology impacted the English language in the years after 2010?
2. While technology has certainly impacted our language in the last several years, so has the environment, perhaps to an even greater extent than technology. Why have so many environment-related words inserted themselves into our language?