Technicon: towards a cultural semantics of informational terms
The English Faculty’s Literature-Technology-Media research group proposes to develop, in the first instance as a online resource, a lexicon of terminology arising out of or associated with information technologies and social media. This will be a collaborative research project, with each term in the lexicon allocated to an individual or small team. Rather than constituting a complete essay in itself, each entry will remain open for the foreseeable future for correction and supplement, where appropriate. A Notes & Queries function will enable researchers to draw upon the expertise of the group as a whole.
Each entry, in short, will originate as a stub (a term which itself belongs in the Technicon, if only because its contemporary meaning seems to have derived from the obsolete botanical sense of a stock from grafting on, rather than from its more familiar association with the remnants of a cigarette).
Anyone who would be interested in participating in this project is invited to contact Ned Allen (email@example.com), David Trotter (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Steve Connor (email@example.com).
What is a ‘Technicon’?
The terminology of IT and social media has become a language as natural as any other. It confronts us at every step of the way as we negotiate the systems and devices that occupy so many of our waking moments, or try to figure out how to do stuff with them, or gaze helplessly at evidence of malfunction. If we happen to want to know what one of these terms actually means, there are of course dictionaries, Wikipedia entries, and a whole range of expository tools, in print and online. If it’s deconstruction we want, we can turn to the excellent Software Studies: A Lexicon, ed. Matthew Fuller (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), or to one of the many recent enquiries into the ramifications of networked communications technology in everyday life.
What none of these resources claims to do is to breathe life back into dead language, so that we return to our systems and devices with an enhanced sense not only of what they do, but also of the rhetoric sedimented in the machine: the writing that helped to bring the technology about, and still colours our attitude towards it, our feelings for it.
Technicon is to a large extent an exercise in the resuscitation of dead metaphor. The aim is to restore to informational jargon something of its richness, as a way to know more both about what we mean when we think and talk informationally in the course of business and pleasure; and about the past, present, and future of the information technologies the jargon services. Some terms reveal the history of the displacement of human by mechanical operation, or of mechanical energy by data-flows. Others were already informational long before they came anywhere near a computer, reminding us that information technologies and social (in the broadest sense) media are age-old. In order to capture these evolutions, a cultural semantics will need to be in addition a cultural pragmatics: a history of what words do, as well as what they mean. And it will need, too, even more so, to be a poetics: a study of figural as well as literal usage. The forms it takes will include both the critical and the creative.
The terms listed below are all terms which had a life of some kind, in whole or in part, before digitalization. Trade names have been excluded.
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