Monday, 15 August 2011

Its a farm Jim, but not as we know it!

What's in a name? Quite a lot actually. Companies go to extraordinary lengths to protect the monicas attached to their products and themselves. And it is easy to see why. Words conjure up mental images in our mind; read the word field, and doubtless an image of an open area of landscape perhaps containing crops, grass or just soil will spring to mind. That is the power of words; they have the ability to instantly trigger a  recall mechanism and make a seemingly appropriate associative image appear in our minds. Names of products, companies and services are very carefully chosen to ensue the appropriate associative imagery appears when they are encountered. Within our education system, pictures are often used to describe objects. So, from a very early age, we learn to associate words with specific pictures, and vice-versa.


If I think of the word wind, I get a movie probably because by definition wind is not static, it is simply air moving from high pressure areas to lower pressure areas. My movie involves people's hair blowing around and trees leaning against the force of the air movement. Curiously, I do not get an associative image of energy from the word wind. Perhaps that will come in time. For me, the word farm triggers an image of an agricultural facility, dedicated to the efficient production of foodstuffs. The word park conjures up images of areas used for casual relaxation and which may contain other items to help entertain us or just while away our hours whilst engaging you with the surrounding environment. I also get images of picnics and ball games for the word park!


So, what do I get when I encounter the words wind farm? Shockingly, an image of a benign, white turbine tower, with propeller like blades turning silently and lazily in the breeze, located on some distant hilltop. I now know this isn't the case (and hope to convince anyone left out there who still does believe that wind farms are silent in future posts). Where did that imagery come from? I didn't encounter such things during my education, so it wasn't from there. I believe it has come from what is going on around me and the subtle messages that have been rather effectively planted in my mind. I obviously need to get my mind right.


Many renewable energy company's websites use a lot of green in their branding and have pictures of bright sunny skies with the odd turbine tower in view. There is no sound associated with these pictures, just a very subtle, visual message. Humans rely on a combination of senses to make sense of their surroundings, and images carry only the visual clues as to what is going on. So, in an effort to square things up, I decided I needed to go back to the term wind farm, and substitute something that conjures up the appropriate imagery. To be sure, I typed in the word "farm" into my computer's dictionary, and it came up with "an area of land and its buildings used for growing crops and rearing animals, typically under the control of one owner or manager." Hmm, that doesn't really apply methinks. My mental image of a farm was pretty closely in tune with the dictionary definition, so whoever authored it obviously thought along the same lines as I do. So, the word farm appears to be inappropriate, but we can't go on calling them wind 'thingies", we definitely need to be a bit more descriptive so that the appropriate imagery appears in our minds.


How about wind factories? Well, that would imply that such facilities manufactured wind, and I know  that's not the case! So where now? How about we be brutally honest: what do these things do? Err, generate electricity. What, like a power station? Well, yes. The light went on. Eager to confirm my new tentative classification, I quickly typed power station into my dictionary. No entries were found, but there was a synonymous link to "power plant". So I clicked it and got "an installation where electrical power is generated for distribution". What, like a wind farm? Err, yes. Bingo.


I have now re-conditioned my mental imagery associated with power stations to include images of wind turbines. Additionally, a wind farm is now a piece of landscape, festooned with massive static structures, attached to which are fast moving blades that generate electricity and noise. Nearby is the image of a large power station cooling tower which helps me to associate wind farms with power stations. Err hang on a minute, where did the noise thing come into it? Well, like a lot of industrial equipment wind farms do generate noise - to such an extent that there are bi-annual conferences on wind farm noise (the short Post Conference Report from the 2011 conference, whilst very succinct makes for interesting reading).


Unfortunately, the term wind farm has effectively been enshrined in law and its use is therefore unlikely to disappear soon. However,  can we please start considering these developments as power stations or power plants, for that is what they are. This way, we may just get more appropriate associative industrial imagery appearing in our minds when the term wind farm is encountered.