An Expressway Runs Through It
by Anthony Chaney
How long has “silo” been used as a verb? Someone will have to school me about that. I’ve been hearing the word more and more in the conversations, written and spoken, of smart people talking about things important to me. Silo may be one of those fashionable usages that gets annoying rather quickly. But as for now, I’m not complaining. I’m just curious how far I am behind the curve.
A practical need bears on usage, surely. Silo must evoke an image people find useful these days: that of institutions, groups, persons, and bodies of information organized into separate containers (“silo-ed”) for isolation and protection. The connotation is negative, like that of “echo chamber,” which refers to the ping-ponging of information within silos. (Once one starts speaking figuratively, the mixing of metaphors becomes hard to avoid.) Open exchange and interdisciplinarity are preferred. Not to silo is preferred. The impulse is holistic.
Because the usage is new to me, the effect is particularly visual. People say silo, I see silos in my head. I grew up in the Midwest; that’s expected. On the evening of May 7 I went to the Texas Theater to see a new documentary and to hear the panel discussion that followed. The panelists used the word silo three or four times. I heard the word, but I was no longer seeing silos. Now I was seeing rows of the high-rise, low-income apartment projects of 1950s- and 60s-era urban renewal. Continue reading