LEARNING A NEW LANGUAGE
Can you speak the language of the future?
We turn on a point in planetary history more
precipitous than any moment in the last 65 million years. So says
scientist/scholar Thomas Berry. Indeed, the next viable human
society will differ decidedly from what we have called
A new language captures this phenomenon.
Already tomorrow’s "words" move too fast to
guarantee their meaning out of a much slower past. Already new
stories emerge in forms totally unknown by earlier norms. Already
digital thoughts fly terribly apace beyond known time and space.
And technology propels this new language at an
exponentially quickening pace. The Internet, for example, is much
more than a medium. It’s the biggest system the world has ever seen,
and it grows with incredible speed. In the same way, virtual reality
is more than virtual. It has captured the popular imagination before
reaching anything close to maturity, and it will soon take over the
economy as television did.2
More important, virtual reality will become the
language of the future. Whether we surf the Net or not, everyday
language will respond to the overtones of this fundamental reality.
If in doubt, check out the youth. Increasingly, they are the ones
who intuitively know the future and who confidently make the
technology decisions in their households.
This digital divide stands even between younger
and older teens. A recent study revealed 13-year-olds already more
advanced in tech-savvy language than 16-year-olds.3
Of course, no language springs into full-blown
existence. So, the gestation between "then" and "not-yet" breeds
vital experiments . . . strange bedfellows . . . and open-ended
It’s a crazy, creative destruction.
More destructive, perhaps, than creative. With
the collapse of the modern world, this new language outruns our
reality . . . outpaces our theology. If we survive, we must speak a
new speech . . . sing a new song.
A New "Language" of Language
The fact that we lack a name for this language
proves its newness. It is not another language in the usual
sense—mere sounds, sentences, and lexicons. It’s more like an
emerging language within a language . . . or what happens when the
"language" of language itself transforms.
It’s safe to say this new language will share
understanding more than simply exchange information. It will create
worlds more than just observe worlds. It will spring from organic
sources more than build on mere ideas.
And, cross-cultural in style, it will appeal to
the universals of relational experience and real-life emotion. In
its finest form, it could be called the "language of beauty," for it
will achieve an essential aesthetic presence. And, in this presence,
it will become a revelation language . . . a metaphoric language . .
. a spiritual language—for whatever "is born of the Spirit is
spirit."4 And within the pregnant silence of this
Otherness, it will also become the language of unspokenness—for "The
Kingdom of God . . . is based on not talk but power."5
In short, this new language will mark a shift
from logic to revelation, from mind to spirit, from proposition to
the intuition, from the literate to the prophetic. . . .
A New Interface
Technology has a lot to do with this shift. The
demands of interactive games, computer dialogue, and the chaos of
innovation have spawned endless incompatible systems. Even
Cyberspace itself creates an incompatible boundary between the real
world and an invisible world beyond our grasp.
Something, somehow, had to bridge the gap . . .
had to break the boundaries . . . had to communicate between
separate systems. That something was "interface design." It began
with nothing more than a picture of a trash can on the desktop (or
the main display screen) of a computer where we could throw away
things just like at a real desk.
Gradually, however, this "interface" became a new
art that hovered over meaningful silences between seemingly
incongruous systems. And the hidden inflections, innuendos, and
suggestions inherent in this new language became the "virtual
reality" . . . the dialogue . . . the language of the future.
But we can’t understand the language of the
future until we realize that the power in virtual reality is a
metaphoric power. Whether eternal images frozen in time or living
narratives moving in time, the future belongs to those who can
create and communicate prophetic metaphor.
We commonly call metaphors mere "colors" in
writing, "figures" in speech, "ornaments" in language. These are
only "literary" metaphors, of course. Our very lives move, instead,
with another metaphor—a more profound metaphor that violates logic
and learning. We easily compare, for example, a sound to a smell, or
a sight to a touch—crossing endless modes of expression . . .
creating awesome similarities of the unsimilar.
And, we commonly call virtual reality only
"virtual"—not really real. Of course, every art form, ritual,
symbol, or metaphor is "virtual." And, in all of them, their hidden
feelings represent something "not there"—something beyond
themselves, something not seen. Yet, like faith, they give
"substance" to their vision.6 More important, they have
the power—through God’s grace—to transform us . . . to recreate us .
. . even to heal us.
Why? Because they speak an incarnational
language—a language that points out of the power to which it points.
If we lose this metaphoric power, we have lost Truth Itself. That’s
the reason Jesus spoke in parables. We often reject transcendent
ideas when the message is too great or the gap too wide between our
minds and a greater reality. But prophetic metaphor bypasses the
natural mind and speaks directly to the heart.
Increasingly, fiction is no longer fiction.
Virtual reality is no longer virtual. The new interface of
Cyberspace and the "reality" it spawns is birthing the language of
the future—a language of immediate experience and felt meanings . .
. a language of mosaics, multiples, and metaphors . . . a language
of amazing and pervasive art . . . a language of new signs and tests
of ancient Truth. . . .
. . . a language of both "online" and "offline"
worlds. . . a language of new realities and new lives!
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Quoted in Gene Marshall, Fresh Wineskins
for the Christian Breakthrough: Fragments of Visionary Brooding on
the Sociological Future of Christianity, (Realistic Living
Press, Bonham, TX, 1999) p. 50.
2. Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture
(Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 93.
3. Forrester Research, quoted in "Techie Teens,"
PC Magazine, August 2001, p. 30.
4. John 3:6; AMP.
5. I Corinthians 4:20, AMP.
6. Hebrews 11:1.