It’s sometimes said that the only constant that you can count on is change. Change is necessary, after all — “Adapt or die” being an imperative of the natural world. And perhaps even more so in the world of technology…
These are the sorts of thoughts that occur as I poke around in the definition database, reviewing likely suspects for Words of the Day. WhatIs has been around since 1996, when founder Lowell Thing started his little “dining room table experiment in hypertext.” Eleven calendar years ago. I’m not sure how long ago that is in Web years, for which the calibration must always be ramping up. However long the years since, though, what it means for us editors is a whole lot of updating.
We try, with varying success, to make definitions as future shock proof as we can without compromising the value of current information. Today’s Word of the Day, Antikythera mechanism, lends itself to that approach pretty well. You don’t expect a lot to change on a 2000-year-old computer. But for breaking news and link rot, we’re pretty much set with that one.
On the other hand, there are those definitions that seem to have been written in a simpler time, probably in the last century. Occasionally, I review a definition that predicts future developments that have either not panned out or have proven so prescient that all we have to do is change the tenses and phrases like “might become” to “is.”
Take silicon cockroach for example. I came across that one yesterday, looking for WODs for the weekend. John Sidgmore coined the term back in ’98 to refer to the multiplicity of small electronic devices that he predicted would prevail in the future. We added the definition in ’01. Now, as we flip lightly over into ’08, I see that not only do the tenses need to be changed from future to present but a host of new life forms added to the species. No mention of MP3 players, GPS , USB drives…
What does our definition say now? Well … that depends. How far into the future are you reading it?
~ Ivy Wigmore