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Tom Chatfield: technology is evolving our language – for the better!

Drawing on his latest book, Netymology, popular technology speaker and expert on digital culture, Tom Chatfield, shares his thoughts on how technology usage is evolving our language for the better. Chartwell are proud to represent Tom for speaker bookings at events and conferences worldwide, simply get in touch for Tom’s availability, topics and fees.

Over the last few decades, digital media have seen a democratisation of written language unprecedented in human history. Via the more than two billion internet-connected computers and seven billion mobile phones in the world, we are all both authors and audiences – our daily discourse playing out via millions of words typed onto screens.

Tom Chatfield on how technology is improving our language and #netymology released today! For some, this is a process where more inexorably means worse: a degeneration of written language into a shadow of past glories. Yet this misses the point. For alongside their loosening and cheapening of words, our young tools have combined the instant and the infinitely reproducible – and are steadily blurring the bounds between private utterance and public performance. It’s a context within which even the most laughable-seeming simplicities conceal possibilities that demand our attention.

Consider the complexities lurking behind just six letters, in the form of two iconic contemporary initialisms: OMG (oh my God!) and LOL (laughing out loud). Both took up their official places in the Oxford English Dictionary in March 2011 – but boast considerably longer pedigrees. In the case of OMG, this dates back to nothing less than a 1917 letter from Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher to Winston Churchill, in which the former exclaimed “I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis – O.M.G.(Oh! My God!) – Shower it on the Admiralty!” LOL, used to express amusement, is a rather younger coinage, dating to the pre-web Bulletin Board Systems of the early 1980s. It’s also, though, a more intriguing one, representing one of the earliest examples of a very-particular trend of digital communications: self-dramatization.

As linguists such as David Crystal have observed, the phrase “laughing out loud” is far from a straightforward description. Someone who types “LOL” – or picks out a laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying emoji on their smartphone’s keyboard – is rarely, if ever, literally laughing out loud. Rather, they’re framing their words within a kind of stage direction: a commentary designed to communicate the conversational emotions that writing doesn’t traditionally convey in the absence of a human face.

It’s a simple innovation that reflects a central contemporary fact. Typing onto screens is becoming a dominant driving force behind language – and this has brought vast ingenuity to bear on turning typed language into a medium as emotive and dynamic as spoken language itself.

Even emoji are only the tip of this particular iceberg. If you want a supreme example of imparting emotional shading to rapidly-typed exchanges, look to the ubiquitous hashtag: born on Twitter in 2007, but soon proliferating elsewhere. Hashtags also speak to a desire to make online interactions as messily, passionately human as possible; but their possibilities for layering performance, politics and in-jokes trump any image. Not for nothing did the UK’s high court label Twitter a “conversation without speech” in a 2012 judgement.

Perhaps most intriguingly, they have also spread back from the screen into our spoken moments, reversing the traditional momentum of language change. To hear someone end a spoken sentence with the words “hashtag first world problems” is truly to be living in a digital age (rough translation: “I want you to know that I know that this thing could only be perceived as a problem by someone privileged; nevertheless, insulated by self-awareness, I am moaning about it.”). If you want to take the pulse of our times with any accuracy, pay close attention to the activity that consumes more human time than any other online: not-so-idle chat.


Tom Chatfield speaker netymologyDr Tom Chatfield is a British author of six bestselling books, broadcaster and tech philosopher. He has advised many of the world’s leading technology firms, and is currently a Visiting Associate at the Oxford Internet Institute. The latest edition of his book “Netymology: a linguistic celebration of the digital world” was published by Quercus US on 2nd August.

 

 

 


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“Has technology rewired our brains?” asks Tom Chatfield, a leading thinker on digital culture

Tom Chatfield speakerHas technology rewired our brains, making us less human as a result? Tom Chatfield is a leading thinker on digital culture, is an enthusiastic downloader of the latest apps, and an early adopter of anything small and shiny that promises to smooth his path through life. But Tom can’t help feeling a little anxious about the hold that new technology has on his life.

Plato felt much the same, concerned that the new-fangled concept of writing might destroy the ability of the Ancient Greeks to memorise vast swathes of human knowledge. Do car sat-navs destroy our innate sense of direction? Do search engines displace our store of general knowledge?

With the help of the Economist’s Digital Editor, Tom Standage and cybernetics expert, Kevin Warwick, Tom looks toward a future when the communication and computing power of our smartphones is inserted directly into our nervous systems. With superfast thought processes and a battery of new senses will we feel upgraded or out of control, superhuman or inhuman?

Click here to listen to their musings. It will be followed up by a long essay on technology, anxiety and what tech means for the mind next week- watch this space.

For more information on how to book Tom Chatfield as a keynote speaker for your conference or event, please contact Leo von Bülow-Quirk at leo@chartwellspeakers.com or call 0044 (0) 20 7792 8000.


Dr Tom Chatfield is a British author of six bestselling books, broadcaster and tech philosopher. He has advised many of the world’s leading technology firms, and is currently a Visiting Associate at the Oxford Internet Institute. The latest edition of his book “Netymology: a linguistic celebration of the digital world” was published by Quercus US on 2nd August 2016.


Posts about Tom Chatfield

 

Tom Chatfield, inspirational speaker on the impact of technology on society, discusses what our descendants will deplore about us

Tom Chatfield speaker netymologyIt’s the mark of a great thinker if he can confront his readers with a deeply uncomfortable question and still make it fun as well as thought-provoking.

Tom Chatfield is one such man.  An inspirational speaker on how technology is transforming society, he asks in his latest feature for bbc.com,  “What is it that future generations will consider barbaric about us?” In a series of conversations with a range of thought leaders, some interesting answers come to the fore…

Read the full article here.

To find out more about Tom, or to book him as a speaker, please contact Leo von Bülow-Quirk on 0044 (0) 20 7792 8000 or at leovbq@chartwellpartners.co.uk. 


Dr Tom Chatfield is a British author of six bestselling books, broadcaster and tech philosopher. He has advised many of the world’s leading technology firms, and is currently a Visiting Associate at the Oxford Internet Institute. The latest edition of his book “Netymology: a linguistic celebration of the digital world” was published by Quercus US on 2nd August 2016.


Posts about Tom Chatfield

 

Technology speaker Tom Chatfield on Gamification and Business Behaviour

Check out this latest video by Tom Chatfield, British author, a popular technology speaker and theorist, who discusses the role of games in the workplace and reflects on the value of people at play.

To book Tom as a speaker, please contact our Managing Partner, Leo von Bülow-Quirk, at leovbq@chartwellpartners.co.uk or call +44 (0) 20 7792 8000


Dr Tom Chatfield is a British author of six bestselling books, broadcaster and tech philosopher. He has advised many of the world’s leading technology firms, and is currently a Visiting Associate at the Oxford Internet Institute. The latest edition of his book “Netymology: a linguistic celebration of the digital world” was published by Quercus US on 2nd August 2016.


Posts about Tom Chatfield

Tom Chatfield on the ethics of handing over our decisions to machines

Tom Chatfield-wordpressBrilliant piece in Aeon magazine by our very own Dr Tom Chatfield on the ethics of handing over our decisions to machines. When is external automation a step too far? Read the article in full here!

Tom is a cutting-edge commentator on the interaction between digital technology, business, society and politics.

For further information about Tom, or to book him as a speaker, please contact Leo at leovbq@chartwellpartners.co.uk, or on 0044 (0) 20 7792 8000.

Tom Chatfield: The Perils of Big Data

Tom ChatfieldSince we were introduced to the internet a few decades ago, we have increasingly been storing our lives in the so-called “Cloud”. In a fascinating BBC Newsnight Report on the perils of Big Data, Tom Chatfield asks the crucial question: can we keep this data under our own control, when boundless more information is being uploaded daily?

In 2012, a typical day on the internet would see:

  • 144 billion e-mails sent
  • 684,000 items of shared content on Facebook alone
  • 72 hours of video uploaded to Youtube per minute

In short, 90% of the world’s data has been created in the past 2 years.

Tom contends that “a database of trivial details, is not a trivial database”. Seemingly minor details about ourselves can in fact be cross-referenced and correlated to startling effect. Spending just 5 minutes on immensely popular social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, can reveal far more about a person than they realised, as Tom demonstrates using his own name.

Even details as trivial as Facebook “Likes” can be analysed to predict with over 80% accuracy very private details such as ethnicity, religious, political preference, and sexuality.

So with the all the risks, why are people so willing to upload so much of their lives?

Tom suggests that it may simply be naivety, but it’s not too late to change our ways. We can protect our privacy online through:

  • Anonymous browsers, such as Tor.
  • Virtual private networks
  • Encrypting files

“Or you can just stop telling everyone where you’re going, who you’re seeing, and what you’re doing, and shut up instead!”

If you are interested in booking Tom Chatfield for a speaking event, please call Leo von Bülow-Quirk on +44 (0) 20 7792 8000.

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