DISCUSSION: “Why ‘Natural’ Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore”

Choose another word or phrase (for example, “technology,” “knowledge,” “culture,” or “creativity” ) and explore the various connotations and limitations of this word in contemporary use.

10 thoughts on “DISCUSSION: “Why ‘Natural’ Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore”

  1. Nowadays, the word “intelligence” is being used in different contexts and explored in more depth. Two uses include applications to the technology world, in which people are developing artificial intelligence, and in IQ (intelligence quotient) tests. Both uses require intelligence to be defined and quantified. In IQ tests, people are asked questions that target specific functions of the brain that someone has decided signify intelligence. In the technology world, creating artificial intelligence means, firstly, defining intelligence as something inherently human that can only be recreated artificially, and secondly, being able to understand what intelligence consists of in order to recreate it. Intelligence is an inherently abstract concept in the way we as a society use the word. We may say that someone is intelligent who gets good grades, or is uniquely creative, or is a good speaker, or countless other traits that are completely different and require different skills. Intelligence can be defined as the “capacity for learning” and various other mental capacities (dictionary.com), but currently there is no way to truly define or understand what a capacity for learning consists of. We use the word in the cases of technology and testing as if it has a clear and universal definition, but in reality, one does not exist.

  2. One of the many misused words of this generation is “literally.” Literally has turned into a word with many connotations due to its common misuse. The actual word is synonymous with “exact” or “precise” and has an application such as, “I asked my friend to toss me a drink and he literally threw it at me.” Now people use literally as a word of emphasis or to enforce a crazy story. The word is then misused because people will commonly pair hyperbole with “literally” to effectively botch their sentence. An example of this would be when someone says, “I literally have tons of homework.” This is incorrect because the person does not have actual tons of homework as in the weight. This is a classic hyperbole and it emphasizes the amount of homework, so it is alright. The issue is when “literally” is added because then the sentence turns into a contradictory mess. Literally’s original connotations were impactful, serious, and forceful. Due to the misuse, additional connotations have been added such as naive, excited, and bland. There are so many possibilities for the word because the denotation has been broken and many new connotations are being created. Literally has lost its punch and turned into a habitual and excited word that means close to nothing.

  3. One word who has had its connotation significantly changed in the past 50 years is “technology.” Throughout time, as technology, machinery, invention and electronics have developed, so has the definition of this word. In the past, “technology” has been defined as any sort of creation that serves a practical use. This could be anything from a horse-drawn plow to a supercomputer. However, in a contemporary sense, “technology” seems to be more definitive of the handheld gadgets and highly-developed electronics that control our lives. In fact, just the thought of calling something like the cotton gin or a nutcracker “technology” is a very foreign concept to me and, I assume, many others. This is all a direct effect of the vast impact that the “technology” we love has on our lives. It is sure that, as time progresses, the definition and connotations of this word will adapt to the newest computerized inventions, and the limitations of the word are non-existent.

  4. A word that I have seen take a completely different connotation over the years is the word “friend”. I know we talk about social media a lot in this class, but social media has completely changed the connotation of the term. Friend, by its literal definition, is defined as “one attached to another by affection or esteem” (Miriam-Webster). That may have been true several years ago, but that is definitely not the case today. In the era of Facebook and Snapchat, we are quick to call anyone our friend. It is clear that if you look up and down your friends list, it is unlikely that you are affectionately attached to that person. It has also went from a noun to take the form of a verb in some instances. The act of “friending” someone is the idea of adding someone to your friends list. While there are a number of words that have taken new meaning because of technology and the Internet, such as “tweet”, “tag”, and “status”, but I feel that the word “friend” is the word that has changed most drastically and had the biggest impact on our generation.

  5. Like natural, the word creativity can also can be used with a variety of connotations. Dictionary.com defines creativity as “the state or quality of being creative,” clearly indicating that there is room for the creation of many connotations of this word and its fairly general definition. In some instances, artistic creativity is used to express the idea that someone has the ability to create impressive and innovative pieces of art. It can be portrayed as a skill or talent that someone is born with, as opposed to an asset that can be learned, like knowledge. Additionally, it seems that we as a society will sometimes use the word “creative” when wanting to describe something that challenges norms or goes beyond the expected boundaries. While there is a subtle difference, the former is more tied to creation of a new idea, concept or item, and the latter strives to indicate success in defying societal norms. More recently, the connotations of “creativity” involved with technology and our increasingly artificial world have arisen and become more prevalent. That is, the use of the word to describe a human’s ability to create things that will eventually make use all less creative. This connotation is a bit ironic in comparison to the previous two, however, it has become just as used of late.

  6. A word that I try not to use is “society” for several reasons. The word, used by itself, is too general and broad to give any specificity or support to my arguments. Statements that start with phrases like “society believes” mean nothing to me. It triggers questions like “Who is included in society? What beliefs? Where does the writer/I stand in this society?” By nature of the word and its prevalent use, answers to these questions are often assumed as common knowledge and are not explicitly answered by the writer.

    Society, in contrast to natural, has a very straightforward meaning. It essentially means a large group/gathering of people. However, the word has come to mean something a lot more than a group of people. If you watch a couple of buzzfeed videos about identity or listen to a middle schooler going through an existential crisis, you will hear the word society being used to filth. The word has taken on the persona of a bully. “Society made me do this. Society made me feel this. Society drove me to do this. Society doesn’t accept me.” The list goes on and on. The word has been given a very negative connotation. It also suggests that the user of the word is apart from society and creates a tension of otherness. In other words, it’s most often “me” vs “society” and implies innocence for the user.

  7. One word that continues to have an evolving connotation is “alive” or “living”, especially in the medical sense. As technology has advanced over recent years, we now have the ability to shock someone’s heart back to life, transplant organs from a deceased person into a sick one, and keep patients “alive” by hooking them up to a machine. One of the points that I found most interesting from the article was the discussion of the phrasing “Do Not Resuscitate” versus “Allow Natural Death.” It’s fascinating that there is such a noticeable difference in affirmative responses from the patients and families depending on which wording was used. Surely part of this is due to negative connotations associated with DNR, but also potentially positive connotations with the word ‘natural.’ To relate this back to the concept of being alive or not, a similar dilemma takes place when family members are told to allow doctors to “unplug” a patient once they are intubated and having a machine breath for them. If someone is only being kept alive by an machine and are not even conscious, are they still alive? Technically yes, as long as their heart is still beating, however doctors often explain that while their body might still be going, they may no longer “be there.” This is especially common with patients that suffer mental degeneration or brain death. Families fret because they feel as if by unplugging their loved one they are killing them, but this is where the alternate meaning of ‘living’ comes in. Even if their body is still working, once a patient is no longer present cognitively many people no longer consider them to be a living person. There is much more that we associate with being alive than just the medical definition, which is why we are able to let people go when it gets to be their time.

  8. I think that the word ‘image’ has some interesting perspectives especially when used in today’s age. The root of the word image is from a Greek word, eikon, which means ‘likeness’ and usually refers to an image or likeness. With the invention of the camera, the use of the word image was easily used when talking about a picture. As the word image evolved, it has been largely associated with pictures in a digital format. The website Imgur, a website that hosts large quantities of uploaded pictures, clearly has its roots from the word image. Image doesn’t just refer to a physical or digital picture. Image is something someone can have. For example, people can have a positive or negative self-image.

    While the word image has many uses, it falls short when being specific. The word ‘picture’ is stronger when talking about the images you take with a camera or a candid photo. Someone’s self image has synonyms with personality. I think that when talking about self image, the word image remains strong because it covers its own idea. Instead of being a word with a general meaning or idea, image in this context refers to how someone views themselves or how others view them.

  9. Today, the term woke is used in many different situations and has different connotations. Many things are going on in our society in terms of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, etc., and with that comes people battling it out on social media trying to explain their opinion on what’s going on. The basic definition of woke is just being aware of history and how it’s impacted the present. To many this is a good thing. You’re able to understand that the reason certain people are in these situations are because of these events that happening in our community. Being able to clearly see where your history makes you stand in our society is a good thing. However, there are times where people think there is such thing as too woke or not woke enough. With this sudden development of wokeness there are situations when someone is considered too woke. This is when their identity doesn’t exist outside of political debates and social justice warriorism. Someone considered not woke enough is very ignorant to all things systematic in our society. In reality, there’s no real way to measure someone’s level of wokeness so really this term is just based on personal definition.

  10. The word “tool” has an extremely different connotation nowadays than what it used to have. Previously, we have known tools to mean hammers, nails, drills and other hand-powered devices used to build houses and put things together. Nowadays, when we think of tools we think of technology or other modern gadgets. Whereas previously we would use a shovel as our tool to clean the driveway after a snowstorm, now we would think of a snow blower or plow. When I ask my little cousins about tools, they talk about apps and virtual carpentry games rather than physical tools. Money as a tool is different too. Money used to mean cash, or checks, or bonds. Now it means credit, debit or other virtual currency. Venmo and Bitcoin are examples of virtual currency that we’ve been taught to consider real. My parents have different ideas about what tools our than I do, too. I consider my iPhone a tool as a map, but my mom prefers paper maps. I think of my phone as a tool for music, too, but my dad is used to records or CD players or the radio. Generationally, the idea of what is or isn’t a tool has changed, and It most likely will continue to change when new things are invented in the future.

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