In June 2009, we named Web 2.0 the 1,000,000th word in Global English. Many in the media were confused by our definition:the next generation of products and services from the web, currently beyond imagination. Later in 2009, we named Twitter the word of the year. Some were surprised when we defined Twitter as "the ability to encapsulate human thought in 140 characters."
They were thinking of Twitter as a means for BFFs to gratuitously unfriend each other. We were thinking of it as a radical new form of communication.
Social media is adhering to its etymological roots more tightly than one might expect. The word "social" ultimately derives from "secg," an Old English word for "warrior." The social media "warrior" now understands that the role of social media is not a fad but a mechanism to better understand socio-economic trends and issues – in real time.
So it is even more surprising that the events of the last six weeks in the Middle East appear to have come as a shock to the western powers and global media. Again.
Three years ago, the media was shocked when an unexpected series of financial events set the global financial markets spinning out-of-control. In retrospect, we now see that only the strongest intervention of the Western Central Banks prevented what was horrific into becoming something downright catastrophic. The Western economies still suffer from the consequences.
A few month later, the media was shocked by the unprecedented run of a relatively unknown and untested black man to the presidency to the United States. (Undoubtedly, it would have been shocked if his primary nemesis, the current U.S. Secretary of State, had successfully navigated her campaign to become the first female president of the United States.)
Then a year ago, the media was shocked by 1) the rise of the Tea Party, 2) the 'shellacking' the president took in the Mid-term elections, and 3) now the upheavals in the Middle Eastern world that appear to have come as a shock to both the western powers and global media.
At least we are consistent in our on-going sense of shock.
The question becomes, why do we continue to be shocked whenever we witness this new reality foisted upon us by means of communications never before imagined? Obviously, even to the casual observer, there is an on-going global transformation of industries, wealth and influence as evidenced by the evolving role of nation-states, the rise of non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), and the proliferation of trans-national causes and corporations – that is apparently out of the span of command of many contemporary institutions.
The question remains: Why the surprise? Why the sense of shock? We've seen this all before, but have apparently lacked the vision to put it all together.
A common thread among recent strategic advances is that all are new forms of communications. We should keep this in mind and not dismiss social media as a passing fad for the young and foolish, but rather as new tools, new social instruments, or even strategic weapons that can, will and are having societal and strategic influences around the globe today.
So once again we have a list of surprises to confront:
• People voting with their thumbs
• Simultaneous uprisings in the Middle East
• Long-ingrained totalitarian dictatorships falling
• Christian and Muslim groups celebrating together
And our astonishment only continues to grow as the future unfolds. After all, we've never seen anything like this before.
Paul JJ Payack is the president and chief word analyst of Global Language Monitor. Edward ML Peters is CEO of Dallas-based OpenConnect Systems.