Emerging Words for the Future (Winter 2022 Edition)

Over the last couple of years and through my own foresight journey (as a social worker and a human)…I’ve found emerging language regarding the future to be really interesting, illuminating, sometimes troubling, and valuable. Sometimes there are words that are more “pop culture” words that emerge from the mainstream (they are a little like popcorn…not much substance). I’m less interested in these and more interested in terms that reflect some deeper shifts in the emerging world. Though sometimes words are themselves signals…they seem silly or superficial at first…and then shift to mean something very important. Some of you know that during the life of this blog, I’ve developed an “alphabet of the future” (linked below) with a cumulative accounting of this little project.

As always, when I’m learning about this concepts, I’m wondering how they fit in social work, if I see any trace of responsivity, relevance or connection to them – and if they’d be useful for us, and if so why. The list is always a work in progress – things that might refresh our perspectives and our imaginations. I haven’t posted one of these in a while. I gather up words as I hear them go by – if I’m not intrigued and curious…I let them go by. These have been gathered up over the last 6 months or so. When I’m done, I add them the full version (linked below).

Abyss Gaze – the author Warren Ellis wrote a novel in 2016 called “Normal.” The book is about a “treatment center” for futurists who break down due to the weight, complexity, confusion and despair of looking into hard futures – and frequently not being listened to in terms of taking appropriate actions to avoid disaster. Here’s a review of the book. The “condition” that brings folks to the door is called “abyss gaze.” It’s an occupational hazard for anyone working in foresight. The future can be a place of hope, possibility and promise…but it can also be a dystopian hellscape. No one who does foresight work is unfamiliar with this “fictional” possibility. Sometimes the work takes you to hard places that are difficult to extract yourself from. Here’s another futurists take on how to manage the condition!

Copaganda. The term is defined as “…a portmanteau of cop and propaganda. As a concept, it encompasses any form of media, news coverage, or social media content that portrays police and law enforcement in favorable ways to the public. The image of policing it creates often serves to shield police from accountability and skeptical coverage, boosts public relations of police departments, and portrays a version of policing that is dramatically different from reality, particularly in regard to the treatment of working class, BIPOC and other marginalized communities.” Willow, 2022.

Here’s some more overview/explainer articles – here, here and here. There’s an emerging academic discourse on this phenomenon too which you can see here. This term has emerged due to increasing abolitionist activism and literacy building in communities – and has great potential to reveal huge change potential in attitudes in some spaces.

Cyber Hygiene. This term is “…often compared to personal hygiene. Much like an individual engages in certain personal hygiene practices to maintain good health and well-being, cyber hygiene practices can keep data safe and well-protected. In turn, this aids in maintaining properly functioning devices by protecting them from outside attacks, such as malware, which can hinder functionality. Cyber hygiene relates to the practices and precautions users take with the aim of keeping sensitive data organized, safe, and secure from theft and outside attacks. (Brook, 2022). This seems like a simple and relatively “everyday, boring” kind of topic – but in point of fact, it reveals an assortment of new vulnerabilities for organizations and for individuals. It has become a reality that modern life requires a new kind of non-optional set of safety habits lest chaos potentially ensues. Here’s an overview of what kinds of everyday cyber hygiene practices matter, and there a host of institutional practices as well. The U.S. gov. has whole division at Homeland Security dedicated to cybersecurity which is an increasingly active space. As social workers, we may not think this “applies” to us in many circumstances, but it is more relevant than we may realize. At the very least, it is shifting huge amounts of resources to addressing perceived threats and as come have complained, massively increased surveillance in modern life.

Permacrisis – the Collins dictionary comes up with a new “word of the year” regularly. For 2022, the word was “permacrisis.” It hardly need an explanation, but relates to continual upheavals – the active state of living in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). Here’s an overview about the word – with some other finalists from this year which are also interesting. (Note: Especially liked “sportswashing.”

Rewilding – means restoring ancestral ways of living that create greater health and well-being for humans and the ecosystems that we belong to. Many things lead people to rewilding — concern over ecological collapse or economic uncertainty, health problems, a nagging sense of something missing in life, or a desire to “save the world” — but from those starting points we come together in a desire to rewild our homes, our communities, and ourselves. Rewilding learns from the examples of indigenous people past and present provided by anthropology, archaeology, and ethnobiology. It means returning to our senses, returning to ourselves, and coming home to the world we never stopped belonging to. (Rewild, n.d.). Have been hearing this word for a few years now and finally adding it to the list. There are all kinds of activist groups popping up and engaged this concept. Here’s one about rewiliding in cities. Some additional information about rewilding can be found here, here and here. It is important to note the Indigenous voice and principles present but not enough noted in some of the ways rewilding is showing up in the literature. Lastly – I really enjoyed this piece about “rewilding one’s attention” in these days of cognitive overload.

Splinternet – increasing presence of a discontinuous, walled, and disjointed internet. Lots of discussion about this right now. Advocates say it has huge implications on the future of democracies, economies and connectivity across national boundaries. You can track some of it here, here and here.

Threat Multiplier (Also Vulnerability Multiplier) – this is the idea that different kinds of threats and vulnerability can have an exponential impact on one another. Most recently it has been used related to climate change and peace/security issues, but could easily refer to many other combinations of issues (go back up to “permacrisis” definition. Here’s a resource to discuss this concept, and here’s some additional information. (Note: I looked up “resiliency multiplier” just to see what might come up but didn’t find much. That said, one can surely assume that this concept is an important one.)

Time Wealth and Poverty – This concept is partially defined by its opposite – time “poverty” and the idea that even when financial well-being increases, people seem to still have less time than ever. This is a variation of the idea of being busy or overwhelmed. Here’s an encouraging piece about how to manage time poverty in your own life (editorial note…a little short on structural influences though…), and here’s a piece on time poverty related to gender equity. The academic literature is starting to have some interesting pieces appear on this topic like this one, and this one.

Here’s the full version of the alphabet of the future.

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