They say people can’t understand an abstract concept unless they have language to describe it. For example, because Tahitians don’t have a word for sadness they think of sadness as they would a physical illness.
As we are immersed in a world of rapid change we need many new words to describe previously unidentified concepts. And when one of those new concepts inspires the masses, the media latches hold and a buzzword is born. And though everyone scoffs at them, we simply couldn’t discuss so as new concepts without using buzzwords. Like it or not, buzzwords are here to stay as the pace of change accelerates.
Recent examples of Internet buzzwords are ‘AJAX‘ and ‘Web 2.0‘ with the latter often being derided as meaningless and just hype. But ‘Web 2.0‘ is, by definition, not meaningless! Ney, the term ‘Web 2.0‘ identifies the nature and level of activity on the web not seen since the dotcom crash. So if ‘Web 2.0‘ were truly meaningless, there wouldn’t be a buzzword for it! Of course whether or not ‘Web 2.0‘ actually describes anything of tangible value distinct from prior periods is a matter of significant debate. :)
The reason buzzwords are so beneficial and will continue to be used is they give people a shared context in which to efficiently communicate, and that has an incredible value. Of course most buzzwords are merely shorthand for “the next big thing” but that’s just the nature of the hyped-up world we live in.
As an aside, the reason the term ‘Web 2.0‘ has attracted so much derision is it grouped hard-to-pin-down concepts having more in common with the current era than anything else. The shared context for ‘Web 2.0‘ is ‘the period starting around 2003‘ and since there is little value in discussing ‘the benefits of the period starting around 2003‘ the value of the shared context is diminished and dissonance results. It would have been much better had the purveyors of Web 2.0 done more to segment and focus attention on the individual concepts instead of defining the umbrella that covered them. Ah, but easier said than done.
On the other hand when the buzzword defines a concise and well understood concept the shared context can create many orders of magnitude more value than the concept on its own, as has been the case with the term ‘AJAX.’ Of course the downside to buzzwords is that wherever they go hype will follow, and that you just can’t avoid!