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Reclaiming Awesome - Emma Bryn-Jones

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This is an entry in The Future We Deserve - a collaborative book project about the future. See all the entries or talk about this entry.



Awesome! The ubiquity of its enthusiasm, soiled with cynicism already – how long before it makes its sorry path to the heap of ne'er-do-wells and its predecessor awful? The tautology of "awesome wonder" in the not-so-ancient hymn "How great thou art" (published as we know it in 1954) holds the clue, for awesome is not a word without spin.

By origin, awe is an Old English word for dread, which the Church first appropriated in the Middle Ages to make the "Fear of God" reverential. The Creator remained awful for some four hundred years, until the Reformation saw fit to bestow an echo of this greatness around kings with divine rights, when the word awesome came into being. For a further three hundred years, awe had two strands: brimming to the full of it or characterised by some of it. In any case, awe was good for those captive of its benevolence.

Awful took a turn for the worse during the Industrial Revolution, so it is uncanny that awesome prevails in the current Virtual Revolution. With the demise of awful, only two hundred years after the birth of its relative, awesome, the latter rose as a beacon of hope in the aftermath of mass production and two world wars. Losing its value rapidly as it is shunted around the globe, what will become of awesome a hundred years from now?

In the correlation between dread and wonder is the recognition that no creation exists without measures of good and bad. Twenty years since the Internet's creation, users are emerging as content creators or consumers and thus the power of communication thrives, with a mere chink of opportunity before it is once again under control. Awesome – isn't it time you defined how we use it?