Our Digitally Infused Reality Needs a New Language to Describe it

The barriers between the digital world and our physical existence continue to fall but our language lacks the necessary vocabulary to describe the new reality that is emerging.

What's the Latest Development?


When you see urban graffiti with a Twitter hashtag or a QR code protest sign, it becomes clear that things once isolated to digital media have become important parts of our physical existence. Yet our language lacks terminology for these physical manifestations of digital information, says the Atlantic's social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson. Dualisms like talking face-to-face vs. texting, cyberwar vs. real war, cybersex vs. real sex and shopping at a mall vs. shopping online are becoming ever-less tenable distinctions. As our artificial barriers, supported by our terminology, fall apart, we will need a new language to express our new reality. 

What's the Big Idea?

Jurgenson's solicitations for new terminology that describe this emerging reality, where boundaries between the digital and the physical fade into nonexistence, have yielded general ideas such as "The New Aesthetic" and "Next Nature," but something is left wanting. "These are not digital objects becoming real; these objects were always in our reality. What we are experiencing is not a Matrix-like teleportation trick, but a rearrangement, a different flavor of information," said Jurgenson. As the digital and physical become one, our world is increasingly enmeshed, imploded, overlapping and interpenetrating. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com


Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • There are 2 different approaches to governing free speech on college campuses.
  • One is a morality/order approach. The other is a bottom-up approach.
  • Emily Chamlee-Wright says there are many benefits to having no one central authority on what is appropriate speech.

USA ranked 27th in the world in education and healthcare—down from 6th in 1990

America continues to tread water in healthcare and education while other countries have enacted reforms to great effect.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The American healthcare and education systems are known to need some work, but a new study suggests we've fallen far in comparison to the rest of the world.
  • The findings show what progress, if any, 195 countries have made over the last twenty years
  • The study suggests that economic growth is tied to human capital, which gives a dire view of America's economic prospects.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think Edge
  • Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett breaks down what qualities will inspire others to believe in you.
  • Here's how 300 leaders and 4,000 mid-level managers described someone with executive presence.
  • Get more deep insights like these to power your career forward. Join Big Think Edge.