I’m ready to replace the word “Computer”


ENIAC computer viewed through smartphoneOkay, so we’ve reached 2013, firmly embedded in the 21st century, and I say it’s time to address an anachronism in our modern language.  Specifically, a word that needs to be replaced with something better.  A word from the last century that should stay in the 20th century, and needs to be substituted with a 21st century word better suited for our times.  The word is “computer.”

Maybe I really am the only one who thinks the word “computer” belongs in the 20th century, where it was born.  Maybe I’m the only one who thinks the word “computer” does not adequately describe the things our modern devices can do.  Maybe I’m the only one who thinks that using old words can hold us back and make it harder to envision their potential for growth and improvement.

But just in case I’m not… let’s talk.

Let’s start with a bit of history.  The word “computer” is actually older than the 20th century, dating back (according to Wikipedia) to 1613, “referring to a person who carried out calculations”.  History is replete with calculating devices, but possibly the first such device given the name “computer” was the Atanasoff–Berry Computer (ABC) in 1937.  Up to that point, calculating machines were all designed to use a pre-programmed algorithm in a set mechanical layout to derive a solution to a mathematical problem.  The ABC Computer was the first electronic digital computer, running programs stored in digital memory to solve equations.

Later computers would store minimal problem-solving programs, and had to have a pre-programmed punch card or electronic media (like a tape) fed into it to apply to problem-solving.  Fast forward to today, when computers have re-internalized all of their problem-solving programs, thanks to more extensive available memory space.  Today’s devices, fitting on a desktop, or even in the palm of your hand, have more than the equivalent computing power of devices, made in the mid-1900s, which took up entire office building floors.

Today, computers do much more than “compute”… that is, to calculate a solution to a problem.  Today’s devices are also dedicated storage and retrieval devices, capable of carrying and providing on demand entire libraries of formerly hard-stored media (like books and music) in digital memory files (“Files” is another word for which we should be thinking of modern replacements… just sayin’).  They can also access external networks, like the web, and deliver both pre-loaded and instantly-synthesized information as required.  They can connect with other such devices and share data as needed.  They can be updated automatically and independently.  And they can allow the user instant voice, text or data communications with other users.

Clearly, the 21st century’s digital hardware is to the 20th century computer as the modern automobile is to the horse.

So let’s think about more modern names for these modern devices.  Maybe the answer is an acronym, like the one the designers of the original Star Trek series developed: The official designation of their computer system was the Library Computer Access and Retrieval System… LCARS.  (Of course, on the show, and subsequent series to date, they still called it “computer.”  But that was for the audience’s benefit… they wanted it to sound familiar.)  Though LCARS is a bit awkward to sound out (it sounds like “el-cars”), adding one vowel from the word “library” helps it immensely: LiCARS or LyCARS is much more easily pronounceable.

Some other acronym, better describing a modern device’s functions, might also work.  Library could be replaced with the more modern Network (the Web, our modern library system), giving us NeCARS.  Or let’s shuffle them to Network Access Retrieval and Computing System, and we get NARCS.  How about Network and Memory Processor… NaMP.   Or maybe Network Access and Processing System would give us NAPS.  Using the words “software” and “hardware” together gives us the natural “sh” sound; so how about Software Hardware Access and Processing… SHAP?  I know: It’s starting to sound kind of funny; but think about it… how serious does “Google” sound?

Okay, maybe another word that better describes what the devices do for us.  In many of my novels, I’ve called my devices some variation on “secretary,” “butler,” “assistant,” etc, titles of people whose job it is to organize our files, complete or help us to complete tasks and find things for us.  I’ve also added “personal” to the name, sometimes ending up with the combined and shortened “PERSEC,” which I think rolls off the tongue well.

And before the tablet computer became a big thing, I was using the word “scrapbook” to describe a touchscreen device that stored our personal information, as well as clips of media from digital magazines, music, favorite novels, photos and contact information, and accessed web-based data and media, for retrieval anywhere.  Other possible words for use here would be “briefcase,” “pack,” “portfolio,” “binder,” “satchel,” etc.

And of course, there’s always the possibility of making up a word from nowhere that simply works as a word to label our devices.  Corporations have recently attempted to do this by adding letters like “i” to existing words like “pad” and “phone,” but using other prescripts like “e,” “digi,” “nano,” etc, have proven workable.  Perhaps a combination like “digicase,” “d-binder,” etc, sounds good.

So, there are the ideas I’ve spitballed over the years.  Do you have any ideas of your own?  What sounds good to you?  What kind of word seems like it would stand the test of time… or at least get us most of the way through the 21st century?  Pass this post to anyone who might have some good ideas, and let’s discuss.

8 thoughts on “I’m ready to replace the word “Computer”

  1. madiebeartri

    I agree we need an upgrade…a new term to describe the technology we use….unfortunately, I don’t have a nifty suggestion to give…but I shall continue to think on this. I feel the wheels turning in my head. 🙂


  2. Probably not going to happen per se. Ipod, laptop; all manner of spin-off words will be added to the language, don’t really see “computer” falling away though. Then again, launching an Atompunk Retro-Futurist Franchise, I might not be the guy to make an unbiased opinion, Buck.


  3. Yes… having retro-futuristic tendencies does suggest you would favor the revival and maintenance of older, existing words, as opposed to conceiving of or developing new ones…

    But think about it: We use the words “car” and “truck” instead of “horseless carriage.” The word “computer” just doesn’t describe the scope of our devices now. If all of our devices were essentially programmable calculators, then sure, keep using the word “computer.” But since they are now calculators, portable memory storage, media access, internet access, communicators, notepads, diaries, libraries and entertainment devices, a word that better describes all that is needed.


  4. Here’s a new possibility: Communications, Entertainment, Productivity (and) Storage [CEPS or SCEP]. Covers about everything a modern computer or portable device does. Doesn’t sound bad to me.

    On the other hand, a word like “aide” or “assistant” ably describe our modern devices’ roles for us as well.


  5. PC, laptop, smart phone, tablet, android device, DVR, etc.
    Don’t think I’ve heard anybody under the age of 70 use the word computer lately. Maybe that’s because I’m commenting a year after the article was written and it’s the future now.


  6. True, people tend to use the names of specific devices or types of devices, per your examples. But if you were going to describe in general terms what they all are, what would you use? Are they all “computers”? Or are they something more?


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