What’s In a Name?

What is the difference between new media and old media? Between informal learning and formal learning? Between a business and a university? Between journalism and marketing? Between a professional and an amateur? Between a designer and a coder? Between social media and digital media? Between design thinking and creativity?

If you have spent any time debating these differences, i would like to humbly suggest that you be careful of wasting a huge amount of time.

In times of great change (like the one we are in now) the coherence between words like these and the things they represent starts to strain. Broadcast media is incorporating Twitter posts into newscasts, while blogs embed traditional news into their pages. Formal classroom learning includes very informal methods. Top universities rely on corporate funding and businesses do real research. Journalists have to consider their audience, while marketers are realizing the necessity of truth-telling. Amateurs produce professional quality software. Coders design systems and even interfaces. People in organizations have been doing what we now call design thinking and creativity for millenia.

What most of us (with the exception of philosophers) really care about is not what these things are called, but what they do. With this in mind, we have to be careful not to get caught up in endless debates about the words we use to describe them. As the movie character Forrest Gump suggested, the only people who should be called “stupid” are people who do stupid things

or as Jimmie Dodd and Doreen suggest, a “beautiful” person does beautiful things

or to put it more directly

Journalism is as journalism does

Universities are as universities do

Marketing is as marketing does, etc.

In other words, for most of the people reading this post (if you are a philosopher, you are exempted from this generalization) the things or actions behind the terms are much more important to you than the terms themselves. So the next time you feel a conversation heading down the road of a debate over terms, try steering it away from the terms, and toward the things and actions behind the terms. Try this tactic, for example:

I don’t care whether it is a  [noun] or a [noun], so long as it [verb].


If we consider for a moment that [noun] seem to be [verb]ing a lot more in recent years, then..

I think you will see that you will have a much more productive conversation.

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2 Responses to What’s In a Name?

  1. Howdee, Christian! Yes, I agree that arguing semantics in times of change usually isn’t sensible. And you are right: essentially, “I don’t care whether social media is a properly descriptive term or an attractive term, as long as I can find a way to make a connection.”

    Still, I like playing with ideas, even if I don’t change the world. Who knows, we may come up with a perfect term for the inside-outside, streaming channels of communications we navigate nowadays. To quote Arlo Guthrie:

    … can you imagine, three people walking in,
    singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. They may think it’s an
    organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said
    fifty people a day walking in singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and
    walking out. And friends they may thinks it’s a movement.

    Isn’t it weird how blogging and microblogging resemble email in ways? : > )

    Bye for now!


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