Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Sea Change

It's a sea change--yes, the network really is the computer."
John Doerr in The Red Herring

How all the people everywhere who have watched, amazed, as computers took sons and daughters, mothers and fathers through a sea change, into something rich and strange... The phrase sea change in todays usage refers to something more than just an ordinary transformation. You might think the word is written as C-change since a C is a 180 degree curve and wouldn't a person be making a C change if they went from liberal to conservative, Republican to Democrat? But that's hardly the case. It does seem to be a political buzzword among the pundits today. What it really means is a change into something finer or richer. Shakespeare employed the earliest known use of the term in Ariel's song from The Tempest:

    "Full fathom five thy father lies;
    Of his bones are coral made:
    Those pearls that were his eyes;
    Nothing of him that doth fade,
    But doth suffer a sea-change
    Into something rich and strange."
With his depiction of the original sense of the term and for its remarkable and eerie beauty: Shakespeare has quite literally changed the corpse of Ferdinand's father into something else or a change has been wrought by the sea. Scholars can't determine positively if he did in fact coin the term but the usage of the term has evolved to focus more upon the extent of the metamorphosis, as opposed to the cause of the change. A metaphor along the lines of fundamental and radical changes that would be brought about after a prolonged submersion under the sea. Perhaps it was from the scriptures that Shakespeare struck upon his idea of a sea change as the divine spirit, one that alters and ultimately destroys the force of the lower motivations of the mortal self. Deriving the concept from the figurative power of God as rebuking the sea and smiting the sea, even confounding the sea.

Perhaps The Old Man and the Sea suffers a sea change in the Hemingway's mind. A sea change typically occurs in the perception of the nature of reality, an elevation of the collective consciousness of mankind, a new paradigm, the dawning of a new age one that is as dramatic as that of the Renaissance exploding forth in the fourteenth century to mark the end of the Middle Ages. As usage for the term for example, when the English language was imported to the New World one could say it under went a sea change as it gained new words and idioms becoming "something rich and strange"

"We are what we eat, particularly in the realm of rhetoric", says Sean Gullette in his Talk American column in The Silicon Valley Reporter (1998),"where ideology and metaphysics are metabolized with every metaphor......

    A sea change washed over American English with World War II. In 1940, regional American remained largely intact, and a Louisianan and a Vermonter might well have done some gawking and gesturing to share what they meant by "infare days" (honeymoon) or "Juneteenth" (Emancipation Day). A decade of newsreels, war headlines and television sets later, millions of people shared a nationalized hybrid vocabulary of military acronyms and radio jargon; TV show catchphrases, and presidential propaganda metaphors. Everyone knew, or thought they knew, what a Jerry, a Jap Zero, a Cattle Car, a $64,000 question, an A-4, a B-52 and a V-2 were.

    There's no way to prove it, but the trickle down effect of American English's post-war jingoistic confusion was a Cold War's worth of Sunday Afternoon Football-inspired foreign policy and Hail Mary corporate quarterbacking. All this new jargon was such fun that America barely noticed a new world order being established, and survived in blissful ignorance the romantic idea of a nuclear bomb being a sort of grand slam home run.

    By 1969, the Cajun, the Yankee and the Lovechild now had V-6 engines, V-8 juice, and "bomb shelters," but the terms "nuclear winter," "radioactive half-life," or "mutually assured destruction" were not as yet classified for public use. That year--leap with me--the Department of Defense wired together Arpanet, a new kind of information machine borne of punchcard dreams and atomic nightmares, which would insure that even if the other team hit a homer, we would still have our computer files because, incredibly--like, um, an electron, or the leadership of a Maoist cell!--they'd always be in more than one place at one time. It would take 30 years for the true nature of this paradigm shift to sink in.

    Then, one morning in the early 1990s, Rip Van Windows woke up and the Internet was there. The reconditioned idioms of this handy and undemanding medium seemed easy enough to pick up--"virus, digital information, feedback, network." The encrypted metaphysics which came with the new codes were not. Do these words simply describe the components of a new world, or are they, in fact, the DNA from which one will be born?"

How would Shakespeare's poetic term for something that abides a transformation spawning and aberrant be applied today? Terrorism has undergone a sea change in the aftermath of September 11th.

Sources:

The Red Sea

Take Our Word for It

Wordorigins.org: Letter S

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