The “light-hearted” final story on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning brought together Brett Rogers, director of the Photographers Gallery, and Rachel Campbell-Johnston, chief art critic at The Times to discuss the issue of people taking photographs in art galleries. Given Rogers’ role, it’s not too surprising that she’s against it, whilst Campbell-Johnston doesn’t see a problem.

Towards the end of the debate there was a fascinating exchange: the art critic argued that visiting galleries was a Buzzword obscurity social experience, and so it’s not surprising these days that people wanted to extend it by sharing images of what they had seen. Rogers responded that we shouldn’t drive everything to the lowest common denominator, and that visiting an art gallery wasn’t a social experience.

What struck me was that the two of them were working to totally different definitions of the word “social”; Campbell-Johnston meant in the original term of the word, and experience shared with others, and that these days social experiences extend from the physical to the online world. Rogers heard the word social and, it seemed, immediately thought Facebook.

I don’t think I’ve seen quite such a stark illustration about how the use of a word as a hyped-up buzzword can lead to such differences of opinion. If art galleries aren’t a social (old sense) experience, we’d only be allowed in one by one (or possibly even only allowed to visit our own personal art galleries). But the term social has become loaded as a result of it’s use in reference to online services. No doubt we’ll be seeing a new term emerge soon to re-describe the old: it’ll probably be something terribly long winded and buzzwordy in its own right – physical human interactivity or some such waffle. Oh well, I guess this is how language evolves…


One thought on “Buzzword obscurity

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