Inventing new words, something journalists just love to do, is like a game with different levels of difficulty. Level one is rather simple and silly. This year we saw bromance, helicopter parents, boomerang children, planking and FOMO - fear of missing out - being included in our dictionaries, describing our modern behaviour and absurd hobbies du jour.
On level two, words destined for the longer term were expanding the lexicon, introducing new social classes in society. Soulitarians, the precariat, and knowmads were invented by writers and academics. All contractions of familiar words and forgotten values. All trying to describe the rise of a new working class defined by the new technology and globalisation of the 21st century.
Level three could be the (more unconscious) stage where large cultural, philosophical and economic movements are being named. The umbrella level, where we name the systems and 'isms' that determine our thinking and aesthetics. Minimalism, communism, feminism, capitalism. Today level three seems to be in a state of flux.
When looking back in history, technological innovation has often been the catalyst for new movements and eras. Our shift from a rural to an industrial society, the inventing of steam trains, the introduction of the printing press, radio, or television, all changed people's lives. They were important steps towards the democratisation of knowledge, bringing new ways of communication and changing people's attitudes.
Now we have super fast and interactive internet. When Belgian workers went on a 24 hour strike last week, in protest at pension reforms, a large amount of twentysomethings wrote and shared open letters online, claiming that striking and paralysing national railways for those who wanted to get to work - not the first time this year - was not the smartest thing to do. "Battle of the generations?" asked the media.
Could it be that the global battles, tensions, and bottom up reactions of citizens we see today - The Occupy movement, Arab Spring - are pushing level three profoundly? To use a buzzword, is there a paradigm shift happening? If so, how do we name it? Who's leading the way? Do we need a new -ism to express our needs?
Postmodernism seems to be over, now the V&A museum is hosting a retrospective on the movement. Can we continue to use the word capitalism by adding a bit of post-, meta-, or neo- to its principles?
How did they do it, back in the days of 1789, going from political upheaval to accepting the ideas of the Enlightenment? On a neuroscience website I read that it takes thirty years of research to approve or oppose a new paradigm.
Even Tate Modern, that modern temple of wisdom and perspective, can't seem to answer what our future narrative will be. On the 3rd and 5th level of the museum they have a timeline running, written by illustrator Sara Fanelli, describing the biggest ideas of the past hundred years: symbolism, constructivism, surrealism. But the timeline stops at the year 2000.
Downstairs in the museum shop, meanwhile, the hints of where we might be going are clearer. Slavoj Žižek's book Living in the End Times has a prominent place in the category 'bestsellers'. And a huge banner is announcing John Martin's exhibition Apocalypse at Tate Britain, at bit further down the Thames. The banner reads: "Apocalypse at Tate Britain. Take the boat outside."
Elke Lahousse is a journalist, currently living in London. She works for Knack Weekend, the leading lifestyle magazine in Belgium. She introduced Project In-Between for The School of Life, read the previous posts here, and here.
The Canadian based organisation Adbusters is organising a competition to come up with a new -ism to capture the 21st century. Adbusters was launched in 1989 as a not-for-profit "... global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age." They're probably most known for branding the Occupy Wall Street movement by designing posters and creating the new Twitter hash tag #OCCUPYWALLSTREET. More information on the competition (deadline in May) can be found in the latest issue of their magazine, or at www.adbusters.org/noname.
Illustration Sarah Vanbelle www.sarahvanbelle.be
Timeline at Tate Modern by Sara Fanelli www.sarafanelli.com