The word is changing with its world. With it goes our thought and the formation of our worlds. Our very being leaps from this notion of world-building: the quick text, the smile gifted to the passing acquaintance, the momentary valuation of time spent in petty communication. Not now, not now, I’ll text her back when I get inside. I’ll text her back at a red light. The thoughts light up and disappear like notifications we’ve attended to. Life, thought, world, word—they all orbit and spring from and return to the iPhone.
The iPhone teaches us efficiency. Offers of efficiency set off the vague notions of personal ascent which capitalist life has branded into us. Jay-Z said, “I’m a business, man.” Aren’t we all. If I can text her back hands-free while cutting someone off on the freeway, I’ve maximized the value of my time while still delivering to her, my emotional customer. This means more for my bottom line, emotionally, psychosocially. This means getting ahead.
Word makes world, and world makes word. To say that a truism is a truism is, itself, a truism. There is no escape from the loop of perceptual creation. Dom Cobb illustrated this beautifully with his little drawing for Ariadne in the dreamspace of Inception. We live that reality, and to write or read that we live it is to further strengthen and illuminate it. This is completely acceptable. It means we’re alive.
Technology has always driven the creation of word and world. Conversely, it has always been driven by them, by the best that our reference-frames could imagine into being. Writing systems, oral tradition, literacy, myth structure—the comparative rationality and scientific precision of cultural narrative are a direct function of technological advance. What Owen Barfield calls “the rational principle” is the driving force behind technological advance. It is both the motivation of advance, and advance’s augmented byproduct: rationality begets technology, which amplifies rationality.
In his brilliant book Poetic Diction, Barfield discusses what he considers an original fusion between abstract categories and concrete phenomena as organized in perception and expressed by language. Then he says,
Afterwards, in the development of language and thought, these single meanings split up into contrasted pairs—abstract and concrete, particular and general, objective and subjective. And the poesy felt by us to reside in ancient language consists just in this, that, out of our later, analytic, ‘subjective’ consciousness, a consciousness which has been brought about along with, and partly because of, this splitting up of meaning, we are led back to the original unity.
Writing in the early 20th century, Barfield had witnessed only the first leg of the exponential curve that describes the increase of technological complexity. He writes in static language because his experience of linguistic change in his own time was slow enough to appear static—grounds enough for a sort of chrono-centrism implicit in the above passage.
Living as we do now—at a much steeper point in the exponential curve—we see that the fragmentation of meanings into abstract and concrete divisions, and the emergence of new fused metaphors for further fragmentation, has not only accelerated with technological advance, it has even begun to operate under new, non-monolithic rules. Unique terms govern every technological subculture.
For Snapchatters, “snap” as a verb has a specific, crystallized meaning divorced from its general, abstract use. iPhone users laugh at the dirty fantasies of the autocorrect algorithm—though “autocorrect” is so old in 2015 that it has already bridged its original subculture-specific context and is now widely understood. These are only two examples. Examination of any emerging personal media experience reveals more.
Where Barfield tracked changes in language and thought over centuries, today’s scholar of the word must tune herself to every new wave, every new communal mode of being which technology creates for us. Here, fragmentation occurs on a higher level, a plane of sociolinguistic divorce which Barfield couldn’t have imagined: forms of personalized media breed faster than bunnies, creating smaller and smaller subcultures of particular technological configuration. From the mainstream, homogenous culture abolished in the twentieth century, we may be moving towards an ultimate crystallization of the individual—a unique subculture and language known only to each person and his personal software augmentation—a total breakdown in communal relations, the ultimate triumph of the divine will at Babel.
Alarmism aside, language change does imply many things about psychosocial unity. The Norman invasion of England saddled upper-class English with a glut of aristocratic French words. The prestige of the new pidgin sent native Anglo-Saxon skulking into the shadows to live only in dialectal and nautical usage.
And this is only one historical division. The emergence of the technocracy today, and their division from the rabble who buy into their apps and data mining, and the rabble’s dividing into different camps, between Android and iPhone, Snapchat and Skype, for example, exerts a powerful fragmenting force on language. These changes are so new, we have not yet even begun to track them. They are happening so fast, we may never begin. Babel may attain first.
Agreement on the terms of our arguments is the only place where argument really occurs. The abortion debate is not about abortion, but about what fetus means. All arguments are fought over meaning. All arguments are fought for the right to unilaterally occupy a meaning-space of critical ideological weight. Only definite, crystalized meaning can maintain any claim to a contested meaning space. Argument, like science, demands the shattering of metaphor and the freezing of its fragments. A fetus is human; a fetus is not human. But just as language crystallization makes and cements our worlds, the emergence of a new metaphor—in which abstract and concrete have not yet fragmented—unmakes our worlds and breathes life into the fragments. This is the function of art, of poetry broadly defined, of the Word itself.
The Word has undergone its own terrifying fusion and fragmentation of natures. Made flesh, misunderstood, blown apart into dead body and pure abstraction, fused again in flabbergasting resurrection, the Word is both microcosm and macrocosm of the history of our words and thought-worlds. The Word displays the terrible justice of Babel, the rightness of technology’s inexorable shattering of community. The Word reminds us that our own words will never approach its concision and grace. The Word reminds us that it abolished all rational argument in its triumphant emergence as Poetry, as finally fused metaphor. The Word invites us to copy itself, to plagiarize the only artwork that transcends the psychosis of ideology. The Word is licensed under Creative Commons because it knows that copyright and originality are constructs of argument bent on attaining godhead. The Word reminds us to love, to die for others, and thus to live in new metaphor every day as words and thought-systems calcify and shatter all around us.
 Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction, 3rd edition. Wesleyan University Press, 1973, 85-86.