Seemingly at warp speed, technology sucks words into its web and spits them out with new meanings, thereby changing not only the primary meaning of the word, but the very way we think. Ask a sixth-grader what a mouse is, and chances are few will tell you it's a small rodent.
Language, of course, is not cast in concrete. It is a living thing nourished by changes in culture and society. It reflects those changes both through incorporating new words into the lexicon and banishing others to the realm of the archaic. Technology undermines this process by first appropriating common words, then assigning them new meanings faster than the normal adult mind can accommodate them.
Chat, host, web, mouse, blackberry, menu, field, window, net, cell, program, icon, notebook, file, document, merge, application, conversion, bookmark, display, button, remote, printer: these are just a few of the words whose original meanings have been lost in technology's maw or, at best, relegated to second thoughts.
There was a time when the word "chat" conjured an image of neighbors engaged in friendly discourse over a backyard fence, or perhaps an afternoon of tea and conversation. These images survive mainly as vestiges of the past in old movies, now colorized for the techno generation. Today, "chat" is something you do alone; inflection fled, nuances gone, and your interaction is with a keyboard and a stranger in cyberspace.
If you happen to be of the Catholic persuasion, then you know Host, with an uppercase "H," has an entirely different meaning than some ephemeral entity managing Web sites. If you never learned this meaning of Host, I trust you have enough curiosity to do the research. (It won't take much.)
The words web, blackberry, mouse and field once drew the imagination to intricate, gossamer spider weavings; to succulent dark berries bursting with earthy flavor; to small rodents scurrying through country cupboards; and to green meadows alive with wildflowers. All these words have been robbed of their magic, their capacity to connect us to the natural world, and are now reduced to technopoly's jargon.
And isn't it ironic that mobile phones are called cells--those annoying, seemingly ever-present appendages, that do, in fact, lock too many people into rude, thoughtless and self-absorbed behavior? Held fast to one's ear, a person's cell shuts out the immediate world, the sensate world of now, and offers a disembodied voice as a replacement.
But of all the words technology has usurped, perhaps the most egregious is printer. If it hasn't already happened, then it surely will by the time the boomer generation becomes compost: No one will know, no one will remember, that for hundreds of years before the introduction of the inkjet and the laser, printers were people. And what people they were!
The men (there were few women) who set type had an extraordinary set of skills. Often single-handedly, they collected the news, wrote and edited copy, opined on the day's political events, sold ads, set type by hand and ran and maintained the presses they often owned.
If this sounds like some earlier version of today's indie media or blogs, don't kid yourself. They were not sitting on their duffs doing "legwork" via computer and telephone, nor did they produce some glitzy product by manipulating a Photoshop program. Instead, these men had to venture out onto the mean streets, get their stories, write them in longhand (or, for those in the league of truly extraordinary gentlemen, set the type as they thought out the text), and prepare ink and paper for a press run on a machine that could be counted on to break down on a regular basis. In the case of a malfunction, it was the printers who fixed the problem, often by crawling into the guts of the press.
In later years, when the production of newspapers morphed from a cottage industry into corporate behemoths controlled by men with names like Hearst and Pulitzer--but before technology ripped the soul out of newspapers--you could still find printers with their soiled aprons and ink-stained fingers setting type quickly enough to make up for a reporter's missed deadline. And, if the layout person on the copy desk screwed up by not counting column inches correctly, you could depend on the printers to fix their mistakes and make sure everything fit on the page.
Every day, these guys performed miracles, and to see them work was an honor and a privilege. The newspaper world is a sadder and sorrier place without them.