NPR FOR THE DEAF: Fresh Air’s Word Of The Year



GEROFFREY NUNBERG: “Infobesity,” “lumbersexual,” “phablet.” As usual, the items that stand out as candidates for word of the year are like its biggest pop songs, catchy but ephemeral. But even a fleeting expression can sometimes encapsulate the zeitgeist. That’s why I’m nominating “God view” for the honor. It’s the term that the car service company Uber uses for a map view that shows them the locations of all the Uber cars in an area and silhouettes of the people who ordered them. The media seized on the term this fall when it came out that the company had been entertaining themselves and their guests by pairing that view with their customer data so they could display the movements of journalists and VIP customers as they made their way around New York. […]

Calling the display “God view” didn’t help dispel that impression, particularly coming from a company whose name already suggested a certain Teutonic grandiosity. But if Uber’s choice of terms was ill advised, it’s still a pretty apt name for the way technology sees us now. Every week brings another indication that the world is becoming a vast panopticon, a place where everyone can be observed without being aware of it. An app displays the Facebook profile of every woman in the immediate vicinity who is logged in on Foursquare. A website streams live video from thousands of unsecured webcams, along with their map locations. And we’re dogged by those uncannily personalized ads as we browse the web. […]

What we’re talking about here, of course, is the sense that the world is getting more and more creepy. That word has been around too long to be a candidate for word of the year, but it’s clearly in the running for word of the era. It goes back to the time of Dickens, but we use it more often and more broadly than ever before. It’s our aesthetic reaction to everything from John Malkovich to Furbies. And it has become our reflexive response to the unnerving promiscuity of digital information. Scholars ponder it. You see articles in academic journals and law reviews with titles like, “A Theory of Creepy” and “Leakiness and Creepiness in App Space.” As the thinking goes, understand creepiness and you’ve located the boundaries of personal privacy, the line you mustn’t trespass. […] As Google’s Eric Schmidt put it, “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line but not cross it.” But that line is constantly moving as we get more and more used to being exposed. MORE