Emerging Words for the Future (Spring 2023 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 post these revisions and expansions on an irregular basis. 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 few months. When I’m done, I add them the full version (linked below).

Climate Anxiety – this is a commonly used but under-defined term that speaks to the stress and impact of being worried about climate change and the impacts it will have on the future of one’s life. The American Psychological Association conducted a 2020 survey to explore climate anxiety – and they found that “More than two-thirds (68%) of the adults APA surveyed said they had ‘at least a little eco-anxiety,’ or anxiety or worry about climate change and its effects. Nearly half (48%) of young adults ages 18 to 34 said they felt stress over climate change in their daily lives.” In another study by the Lancet, “a group of nine researchers including ​​psychologists, environmental scientists and psychiatrists surveyed 10,000 individuals ages 16 to 25 about climate anxiety and its relation to government action. Seventy-five percent of the young participants, from ten different countries, said that the future is frightening. Almost half of the respondents shared that their feelings and thoughts about climate change negatively impacted their everyday lives, including their ability to concentrate, eat, sleep, study and enjoy their relationships.” The term “anxiety” is complex says Britt Wray (2021) in her book “Generation Dread.” It can be further understood as a complex array of “grief, rage, helplessness, hopelessness, sorrow and these kinds of difficult and challenging feelings that point out our concern for the world.”

Dataveillance – According to researchers Buchi, Festic & Latzer (2022) dataveillance is defined as “The institutional practice of dataveillance—the automated, continuous, and unspecific collection, retention, and analysis of digital traces—affects individual behavior.” They go on to describe that “people’s sense of being subject to digital dataveillance can cause them to restrict their digital communication behavior. Such a chilling effect is essentially a form of self-censorship in everyday digital media use with the attendant risks of undermining individual autonomy and well-being. This article combines the existing theoretical and limited empirical work on surveillance and chilling effects across fields with an analysis of novel data toward a research agenda.” Dataveillance is prevalent in online educational spaces (among many others) – described by Selwyn as an element of “dystopian future of education.”

Doxxing – According to the International Encyclopedia of Gender, Media, and Communication, doxxing is the intentional revelation of a person’s private information online without their consent, often with malicious intent. This includes the sharing of phone numbers, home addresses, identification numbers and essentially any sensitive and previously private information such as personal photos that could make the victim identifiable and potentially exposed to further harassment, humiliation and real-life threats including stalking and unwanted encounters in person.

GreenwashingGreenwashing refers to ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ practices or products, while ignoring their total contribution to climate change and or the Sustainable Development Goals such as biodiversity or environmental pollution. It is considered to be misleading in that it misrepresents the intentions or actions of large organizations or groups. Includes two most frequently seen variations – selective disclosure and symbolic actions. Greenwashing is conceptually related to another definition on this list – Ethics Washing.

Memetic WarfareIn an 2019 MIT Tech Review article, expert on memetic warfare Dr. Joan Donavan describes: “While today we tend to think of memes as funny images online, Richard Dawkins coined the term back in 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene, where he described how culture is transmitted through generations. In his definition, memes are “units of culture” spread through the diffusion of ideas. Memes are particularly salient online because the internet crystallizes them as artifacts of communication and accelerates their distribution through subcultures.” Dr. Donavan and her colleagues Dr. Emily Bender and Dr. Ben Friedberg went on to publish a recent book called “Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Upending Democracy in America.” This review describes it as: A political thriller with the substance of a rigorous history, Meme Wars is the astonishing story of how extremists are yanking our culture and politics to the right. And it’s a warning that if we fail to recognize these powerful undercurrents, the great meme war for the soul of America will soon be won. You can hear Dr. Donovan discuss the book in this piece.

Multilocal Families – refers to families in which members live in different geographic spaces – either locally, nationally or internationally. It isn’t a new concept, but is receiving increasing attention due to increasing global migration.

Privacy Literacy – Discussions about erosion of privacy in public life have been ubiquitous in the last 20 years given the rapid expansion of new technologies. Are new kinds of “literacies” required to thrive in the future – and maintain any modicum of privacy in the world ahead? In their article from 2022, researchers Kumar & Byrne describe five “D’s of privacy literacy” which they describe as

  1. Define the information flow (i.e., identify the information type, subject, sender, receiver,
    and medium).
  2. Describe the social roles, context, and norms involved in the information flow.
  3. Discern how the information flow could (positively and negatively) affect others in one’s community and beyond.
  4. Determine whether the information flow aligns with the appropriate norms of the context.
  5. Decide whether to enact the information flow, modify it, or disrupt it.


Swatting is making a 911 or emergency services call to cause a large number of police officers or an armed response to a location. A swatting event is inherently a hoax – intentionally activating emergency response with the knowledge that there is no actual threat. Unfortunately, this extremely upsetting practice is on the rise – and is often aided by new technologies. You can learn about it here, here and here.

Here’s the full list with new items incorporated!

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