Reality is usually one step ahead of the language we possess to describe it. People began taking pictures of themselves long before the Oxford English Dictionary selected "selfie" as its 2013 Word of the Year. Friends e-mailed each other pictures of cats longing for cheezburgers without knowing they were sharing a "meme." This language lag time makes it difficult to understand the present as it unfurls. Or, as philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein might say, "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
About the author: Shumon Basar is a writer, cultural critic and the co-author, with Douglas Coupland and Hans Ulrich Obrist, of "The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present."
Our new book, "The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present," tries to fill that gap. Part poetic manifesto, part postmodern dictionary, the text explores how technology is reinventing such fundamental things as time, individuality and class. Which of today's universal experiences, we asked, would seem utterly alien to a version of us from two decades ago?
Co-authors Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist and I turned our answers into new words that describe the effects of digital technology and the Internet on everything from our brains to the planet. You've all felt these things happening to you. But you didn't have names for them yet. Well, now you do.
Boredom with global crises.
Willingly diluting one's sense of self and ego by plastering the Internet with as much personal information as possible.
A fear of Michigan and all it represents, namely the queasy realization that it's probably much too late to fix whatever little bit of the economy is left after having shipped most of it to China. Detroitus is also the fear of roughly 10 million mammals needing 2,500 calories a day sitting on top of a cold rock in the middle of the North American continent, with nothing to do all day except go online and shop from jail. Detroitus is an existential fear, as it forces one to ponder the meaning of being alive at all: We wake up, we do something — anything — we go to sleep, we repeat it about 22,000 more times, and then we die.
The fear of feeling like an individual.
Narrative drive (n.)
The belief that a life without a story is a life not worth living. Ironically accompanied by the fact that most people cannot ascribe a story to their lives.
The acceleration of acceleration.
The sensation that we've never been smarter as individuals and yet somehow we've never felt stupider. Example: "Yes, I know I was able to obtain a list of all Oscar winners from 1952 in three-tenths of a second, yet it makes me feel smupid that I didn't waste two hours visiting the local library to obtain that list." In our newly smupid world, the average IQ is now 103, but it feels like it's 97. One possible explanation for smupidity is that people are generally far more aware than they ever were of all the information they don't know. The weight of this fact overshadows huge advances in knowledge-accumulation and pattern-recognition skills honed by online searching. I am now smupid. We're all kind of smupid. And the future is even smupider.
The overuse of aspirational middle-class imagery to convey to what remains of the middle class that it isn't doomed.
Time snack (n.)
An often-annoying moment of pseudo-leisure created by a computer when it stops to save a file or to search for software updates or merely to mess with your mind.