What are some words that have changed meaning due to technological advances in the last twenty years? What impact do these changes have on our thought processes?

Some words that have changed meaning due to technological advances are dial, type, tweet, drone, and spam. These changes may contribute to eradicating earlier meanings or expanding a word’s range of use. These changes might impact our though processes by limiting our vocabularies or, conversely, encouraging abstract thinking.

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In recent decades, technological advances such as the rise of cell phones and the dominance of the internet for communication have altered the meanings of many words. Some of those words pertained to related technologies that were predecessors of their modern versions, such as dial and type. Other words have...

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In recent decades, technological advances such as the rise of cell phones and the dominance of the internet for communication have altered the meanings of many words. Some of those words pertained to related technologies that were predecessors of their modern versions, such as dial and type. Other words have been borrowed from completely different areas and acquired entirely new meanings, such as spam and drone. In terms of effects on our thought processes, the contemporary meaning of these words may replace the earlier meaning, effectively shrinking people’s vocabularies. However, the expansion of meaning into unrelated domains encourages creative and innovative metaphorical thinking.

The word dial was previously applied to telephones that had rotary mechanisms, which had to be manipulated by fingers. These were largely replaced by keypads on landline phones and non-touchscreen cell phones. On modern touchscreens, tapping the onscreen keypad has replaced using physical dials, yet people often refer to entering a number as dialing. This usage tends to make people forget that there was once a round, mechanical aspect to placing a call.

Similarly, type was for centuries a noun referring to the metal or wooden pieces inscribed letters that were physically manipulated to form words to be printed. Later, type also became a verb related to the mechanical typewriter; it meant striking keys that pushed similar metal letters onto a page. Much like dialing, contemporary typing is electronic rather than mechanical.

Spam is the name of a processed pork product that resembles ham; the name is thought to come from a portmanteau of "spiced ham." According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, its use as a term for internet junk mail arose in 1993 from an incident when someone accidentally posted the same thing 200 times. The term, which had been used previously in online games, refers to a 1970 "Monty Python and the Flying Circus" sketch wherein the word "spam" is excessively repeated. A common misconception about its etymology is that the inauthentic nature of the food product was used as a metaphor for false or unwanted digital information, but this is not true.

The word drone has historically pertained to male worker bees, but now is applied to a non-piloted flying device. Here the association is based on similarity in behavior. Though this meaning of the word originated in 1946, its popularity has certainly increased in recent decades.

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