The Etymology of Function

Etymology, as defined on Google, is “the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.” Now, I fully recognize that in this instance I am not using the term correctly, but similar to the way we can learn from the root of a word, perhaps there is something to be learned from the root function that perpetuates a change in behavior online. How do certain memes, habits, and behaviors come to be? What is their root cause?

There are many different iterations of this on the Web. Though I believe that most fundamental behaviors – such as a need for shelter, companionship, and love – stay the same over time, the way we express these needs changes when new capabilities and function become available. One of the most obvious examples is our need for self-expression, and the selfie is a perfect example of how this has evolved over time.

In the past we had cameras, and we framed a picture through a viewfinder. Selfies were rare because you couldn’t frame the shot. Then mobile phones started to come with cameras built in. The true pivot came when the front-facing camera was introduced. Originally meant for video calling, young people quickly co-opted this feature and the modern selfie was born. The exponential growth in resolutions and HD video capabilities only exacerbated the situation. The creation of the selfie then forced other “innovations” – the selfie stick for one, born from the need to frame better photos followed by cameras with screens that now flip, as well as Samsung’s attempt at building a lens-side screen into their cameras. The person who added the front-facing camera should be in many ways be credited with the modern-day selfie craze.

Another example of this is the Starter Kit Meme that began on Twitter, a simple meme consisting of four images with a headline. The fangirl starter kit, for example, has images of a laptop, social network logos, a box of used tissues, and an ambulance, all of the things you need to be a true Justin Bieber fan, or “Belieber.” The birth of this meme came from a simple new function that Twitter quietly launched last year, the ability to post four images with each tweet.

In the past with the pace of technology shifting at such a slow rate, creativity often was not influenced by the impact of new features. Today, this paradigm has changed and must change the way we work.

In a creative industry looking for new ways to connect with consumers researching and understanding new capabilities offers us all a new avenue for inspiration. How can form and function enhance our brand and business experiences? We must challenge ourselves to see the creativity in new modes of engagement.

With so much change at hand, perhaps we need a new area of study. Funtymology, “the study of the origins of new human behaviors rooted in how technology features and functions shift over time.”

Image via Shutterstock.

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