Mar 18, 2013

Proud, Thrilled, Happy

Baby Boomers reminisce about growing up during a time of wonder and exuberant national striving, where all Americans were united around the awesome goal of sending humans into space. But a 1969 opinion poll showed that only 53 percent of American adults were wholly in support of exorbitant moon-trip spending. Where did this story the Boomers tell, then, emerge from? First, it appears in the words they use to describe their experiences as eager, wide-eyed children during the beginnings of space exploration (by 1958, ray guns had replaced six shooters, and 50 percent of the $1.3 billion U.S. toy market was sci-fi-related)

And second, it materializes in the words of the space enthusiasts, who's records thrive on a tenor of awe-inspiring exploration.  "It [the rocket] will free man from his remaining chains, the chains of gravity which still tie him to this planet. It will open to him the gates of heaven." -Wernher von Braun



The English language contains approximately 500,000 words. The average person uses 2,000 of them, and calls upon only 200-300 of them as regular standbys. (For reference, William Shakespeare used 24,000 words; 5,000 of which he only used once.)  The words we pay attention to as a culture are shifting constantly. In 1996 the English dictionary went online. "And we noticed that we learned a lot about the English language," said Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large at Merriam-Webster, "about what words are looked up every single day in kind of a perennial way...after 9/11 (there was) an enormous amount of attention paid to the coverage and any news coming out of that story. And so we had this kind of concrete word of disaster, like rubble and triage in the first couple of days. And then words of explanation or of politics, like terrorism and jingoism. And then later, you know, four, five days later, we found that people were turning to the dictionary for what I would call philosophy, words like surreal and succumb..."

As we share verbal reactions, moving from the concrete to the explanatory to the philosophical, we are building a personalized representation of our world. The words we choose reflect our leanings, our deepest drives, and then, with them we re-invent. The next generation of space explorers are starting their journeys as young thinkers, science-lovers, experimenters. Many are already considering their small selves in relation to outer space. Is there a different, or even brand new, vocabulary we should be adopting to ensure they journey upward and outward with respect, awe, and imagination?  Should we take poetic license, urge them to pepper their search terms with metaphor? Stick to the scientific? A stunning combination of both? 

Here in the OSLab we think about how to ignite new ways of speaking...thinking...acting.  There is much to consider, and room to create, in the interstices. 




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