J.J. Abrams’ awesome remake of Star Trek was branded as a reboot. I suspect it’s the first time that word has been used to market a movie, but we all instantly knew what it meant. I’ve also heard the same word — reboot — used to describe the government’s attempts to fix the economy. Let’s take as a given: People are using the word reboot a lot these days.
It’s an elegant word that comes from computers. (Merriam-Webster: boot: “to start or ready for use especially by booting a program <boot a computer> often used with up.”) Practically everybody knows how to fix a computer bug by hitting a restart button. The computer clears its memory, runs its start-up routines, and after several minutes, presto!, everything is new again. It’s like un-popping your ears or cleaning your glasses.
These days, many of our economic systems could use rebooting. Think about where you work. Imagine if you could shut the place down for a period of time, rethink everything you do, and then restart with all the current problems solved, inefficiencies purged, bugs fixed. Imagine if a company undertook a careful study of itself, figured out what it did best, trained and redeployed its people to solve its hardest problems, and came roaring back to life. It’s appealing, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, nothing works that way. Outside of the world of computers, few problems can be solved by taking something apart and fitting all the same pieces back together again. Heck, even modern computers are designed to be stable enough that you shouldn’t have to reboot them. (If Vista gives you guff, rebooting doesn’t help much.)
If you wanted to reboot General Motors, you couldn’t just shut it down, wait, and then try again. You’d have to spend a lot of money and human energy correcting a system gone wrong. You’d have to invent new things. Creation is hard, and language needs to reflect that. The makers of the new Star Trek film didn’t just re-shoot an old sci-fi flick with better special effects. They respected an existing template, but used it to say something new. It was hard, it was expensive, it paid off.
Reboot just sounds lazy. I submit a better word: reinvention.