How We Talk About Technology


Photo by Isaac Chou on Unsplash

Language is perhaps, the most important technology hominids ever developed. Not just us Homo Sapiens, but there’s evidence that our related Neanderthals may have developed some forms of language as well. Maybe other hominids? Language enabled us to work together and tell stories. It also helps us share our various realities.

And language helps us shape our relationship to and with technologies, nature and fellow animals. We have long had the tendency to anthropomorphize other animals, technologies. For centuries, for example, we have called ships “she” or large machines a “beast.”

Long was our tendency to place non-human animals characteristics onto technologies. This created a form of distancing our self from a technology, to them as adjacent to, but not us.

Our language around digital technologies and thus how we see us, is changing. Instead of putting animal or gender descriptions to technologies, we are starting to put technology descriptions and labels onto us. Both individually and societally. This is a first. Why does that even matter? Why do we need to think about that?

It matters because it impacts how we will use culture and language to tell stories, to share and navigate our realities with the technologies we create. It will play a role in how we evolve technologies that are more cognitive in nature than most non-digital technologies which augmented our physical lives.

Cognitive technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) will and are, augmenting our cognitive lives, altering our realities. Which is perhaps, more impactful than technologies that augment us physically, like a car or a hammer.

The smartphone, for example, is evolving in our sociocultural systems to augment both our cognitive and physical lives. Through this device it helps us tell stories, form communities, organise socially and navigate both our internal lives and the external, physical world.

Everything we do on a phone today is tracked by companies who want to sell us something or change a behaviour. With social media and internet access on our phones, our realities are also being shaped, not just by companies, but other humans. We are influenced by what they say and share. We are constantly distracted and we have evolved terms like fear of missing out (FOMO.) All through the use of language on these and other devices like tablets and laptops.

We are increasingly projecting machine qualities onto humans. We talk about multitasking, which computers can do, but humans can’t. It is a myth that females can multitask and males can’t. Computers can because they have multiple processors, humans do not.

When someone says something to us that we may not immediately understand or agree with we might say “sorry, that doesn’t compute.” We talk about networking for business. Then there’s all those life hacks and interfacing with others and how someone can really process a lot. Machine functions placed onto humans.

Where I think we are, is an evolution in language and its influence on our sociocultural systems in the way that we are developing relationships with digital technologies. This is because we aren’t quite sure yet how and where we want digital tools to play a role in our cultures and societies.

We are evolving new norms and behaviours with regards to these technologies, figuring out how we tell the stories that will shape our relationship with technologies such as AI, crypto, blockchain and even data.

We are creating more data than ever before in human history. To the point that some suggest human generated data will outpace the data generated by nature. Arguable. Yet interesting. And we’re still very bad at turning it into useful information, at a global scale, that can become knowledge that we apply. Look at the vast number of analytics tools on the market just for business and this is easy to see.

Search engines, despite what it may seem like, are still trying to make AI work in terms of delivering results. Yes, Bing may be using ChatGPT, but it’s still messy and prone to mistakes and it turns out, humans aren’t that much interested in that capability. Perhaps as it improves, we will be.

As we come to comprehend that while we play a role in nature and our universe, the health of our planet and that our fellow animals are sentient in various ways, our language too, will evolve. We have always developed tools that help us understand and shape our societies. Language too, has evolved in lockstep.

The way we use language to shape our relationship with technology may be undergoing one of it’s most profound and significant changes since we first figured out how to grunt at each other in ways that we all understood. We may well be changing how we perceive our idea of self in terms of our relationship with technology.



Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Digital Anthropologist | Chief Innovation Officer | I'm in WIRED, Forbes & National Geographic etc.