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When Technology Changes Language

Mar 16th, 2012 / Technology Google Facebook Twitter Xerox Language

I have always been fascinated by the intersection of technology and language.

"Hey, will you Xerox this for me?"

A common example is when a tech brand becomes a synonym for the technology. "Xeroxing" is synonymous with "photocopying". Tho' it seems like a dream come true for a company, it's something they often try to avoid:

By controlling the use of their brand name, businesses hope to put off the day when the name grows so popular that it defines all similar products on the market. When that happens, a brand has been lost to “genericide,” lawyers say.

Then again, with the right patent protection this can be great. Take Polaroid. It sued Kodak to protect its patents--a lawuit that made thousands of Kodak cameras useless and forced them to compensate some unhappy customers with $50 worth of Kodak stock. Even tho' it stopped making its iconic film in 2008--"Polaroid" is the "instant camera".

I'll Just Google It... Facebook Me...

You know your startup has made it when it it becomes a verb. Now "to google" something could fit in the "xerox" category above. People often say they are going to "to google" something and then use Bing or some other search engine. But when you say "Facebook me", you are being unambiguious. Log into Facebook. Friend me. Send me a message.

I think I saw it in a tweet

The creation of a new, commonly-used noun is a rarer occurrence. Twitter has accomplished this with the term "tweet". A tweet is a message of less than 140 characters emitted through their service. It takes a catchy name, a new "type" of thing, and a bit of luck for this to happen.

And subtle changes to the way we speak

The most interesting changes are the small ones that just creep in but immediately make perfect sense. New technology requires new terminology. Take the Kindle and e-readers. I recently asked a friend how much of "The Hunger Games" she had read. Her reply?:

"About 40%."

Page numbers may just be a thing of the past.

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