It's fascinating how our language is in constant flux. We invent new words almost daily. Not long ago Google didn't mean anything. Now people say they Googled this and Googled that. Kids are great at inventing words or giving different meaning to old words. Good became "bad!" Words come and go in advertising and many reach acceptance from broad audiences, though sometimes the meaning isn'êt exactly clear. Take the word "smart."
These days it's getting so almost everything has the word "smart" associated with its name. My computer has a number of applications which use the word 'êsmart'ê to identify various functions. An acquaintance is looking to buy a Smart car, a cute little thing that gets good mileage, uses premium gas, and limits luggage to a toothbrush. I've got several "smart" cards'ê in my wallet. Some of which I think talk to other "smart" devices I'm not even aware of. I don't know if they are smarter than the other plastic cards, but I'êve discovered they're not smart enough to pay the charges.
I'm told the new enhanced drivers licenses are "smart" because they use an RFID, a micro chip transmitter, to pass on information about your identity. What if you don't want the card in your pocket blabbing details about you? When smart cards are talking about you to others without your knowledge, it makes you wonder if lead foil in your pants or purse might be something to consider. Apparently there are stores which keep a dossier on your purchases. Somewhere someone knows you bought a dozen chocolate covered doughnuts or a six pack of Bud.
There are smart phones, smart bombs and smart electronics in cars that speak to you in seductive voices. Obama talks of the need to create "smart" power grids that allow decentralized distribution and can even heal themselves if a terrorist blows up Grand Coulee.
When you go online, new smart software tells data miners all about where you were looking on the internet. Someone probably knows if you were looking at "Hunk.com" or "Girls Galore." If you look up a book on Amazon dot com, they will tell you about all the other books you might like. It seems like they keep track of what you read. Scary!
I don't know if you can define smart as the opposite of dumb. There is one subject that uses the word "smart" which is especially confusing. This is the general area of being smart about environmental issues. There are lots of promotions about new styles of buildings that are smart. Lots of insulation, energy efficient windows, toilets that flush with less water, and, who knows, maybe showers that change to cold in 3 minutes.
Appliances now have smart ratings, called "energy star," which reveal how little electricity the new models use. I'll bet you didn't know how much the old one used. I saw one promotion at a home show that advertised electronics for the home, saying, "From Paris you could use your iPhone to call your home in Seattle and turn on the air conditioner system or turn on the lights." That sounds really valuable. The best part of the smart home is that roof gardens and planting areas are now the rage. You can grow your own garlic and cilantro on the roof, as well as marijuana in case you want to make your own hemp clothes.
One of our candidates for mayor and a couple of city council members promise that they will make "smart" decisions for the environment. They promise to change how we all live. They call it moving forward.
"Smart" reaches its pinnacle of confused meaning in relation to urban planning. Smart growth and smart planning are everywhere. I've been trying to nail down just exactly what smart planning means in simple terms. No smart person would argue that not planning would be very smart, so that must not be it.
Of course, we should get smart about how we prepare for the future. But if being smart in the future presumes we haven't been smart in the past, does that mean that all previous planning wasn't smart? Think of all those people who moved about by horse and buggy, streetcars and trains before cars became popular. Henry Ford tried to convince them that cars were "smart" and horses and streetcars weren't. It seems now that has all been reversed.
For the last several hundred years people burned wood and coal to heat the house. It appears that wasn't smart. Those same people lived in much smaller homes because it was easier to heat and cost less to build. They recycled everything useful, made soap, raised food in their gardens, made candles, and ate food that wasn't government inspected. That must not have been very smart either.
It's beginning to look like recycling, once considered old-fashioned, now makes you smart again. Not using plastic bags also adds to your smart quotient. There are some smart urban folks who have sold their car to some poor worker who lives outside the city so they can commute to work. They have proudly moved forward, and now ride public transportation everywhere. They are the smart folks who walk to the grocery store to shop, push the grocery store basket home, and leave it on the street in front of their apartment building or condo.
The really good news is that records show that many of our environmental leaders, politicians, urban planners, and professionals are being very selfless because they are using their influence to help the less important people and less affluent people become smart. They are doing all possible to get these folks into apartments, transit area developments near mass transit, or public housing.
It is a bit puzzling though, because most all these leaders own cars, live in expensive high rise condos or nice homes in single family neighborhoods. You would have thought they would have been the first to have wanted to "get smart." While they ask everyone else to "move forward," they are letting others go first. A selfless act if ever there was one.