We’re a society obsessed with labels. I don’t mean Ralph Lauren or Gucci labels. I’m referring to labels that help us categorize otherwise difficult and sometimes seemingly arbitrary things into various discrete buckets.
Labels Created by Greedy Manipulative Marketers
Back in 1985 there were “trucks” and there were “cars”. If you drove a Chevy Blazer, you drove a truck. By 1995, if you drove that same exact Chevy Blazer, you drove an SUV. So sometimes labels (or in this case “Vehicle Categories”) get created out of a desire to sell more of something. “Aha, some people don’t like to drive trucks, so let’s change the label to something that sounds better…let’s call it a Sport Utility Vehicle!”. You can almost hear the marketers conspiring to pick your pockets.
Then by 2005, SUV became a dirty, untrendy word and all of a sudden, people were driving “Crossover Vehicles”. So if you were driving a Lexus RX-300 on December 31, 2005, you were driving an SUV. That same vehicle all of a sudden became a “Crossover” on January 1, 2006.
Labels Evolving for Social Reasons
Labels evolve for other reasons too – sometimes because it’s a “bad” label.
My mother was a special education teacher. Back in 1970, pretty much any kid who was slow was “retarded”. In fact, in 1969, my kindergarten teacher labelled me retarded as I was unable to write my own name. It turns out that I was left-handed, and this particular teacher was insisting that I use my right hand to hold the pencil.
So to be a “retard” meant just about anything from a left-handed 4 year old to a child who suffered a brain injury at birth and was unable to even feed himself. It was a very mean-spirited label, chock full of connotation. My parents were so afraid of that label they sent me to a different school district for first grade, so that I wouldn’t be labelled as “a retard”. To this day, I still cannot write anything with my right hand.
So the label evolved into “mentally handicapped”. Then “mentally challenged” and then “special”. People still call me “left handed”, though. That label stuck.
Stupid Technology Labels for 2011
And then you have stupid technology categories. These are incredibly broad categories. They typically get created in the early days of a technology movement. They represent a bucket so big that the products that get dumped into that bucket often bear little similarity to each other.
So in an attempt to simplify things for people by creating a label for a type of technology, it simply ends up confusing the hell out of people.
One of these categories, and my nomination for the Stupidest Technology Category of 2011 is “Crowdsourcing”.
Rather than repeat what I’ve written elsewhere, take a look at my article on Sys-Con Media, entitled “Why Crowdsourcing is Stupid“.