Bring on the Jargon!

Technology is both a blessing and a curse, though I tend to usually be in the camp petitioning that it's more often the former. But lately I've been wondering if a lot of the problem isn't the technology, but the way we talk about it.

People sometimes accuse me of using jargon when I speak about technical matters. This is a necessity - I'm often talking about things and concepts that are not easily describable in everyday language. What people often misunderstand is that I'm not being overly technical when I talk - I'm being exactly as technical as I have to be. "Jargon" doesn't confuse things - quite the contrary. It makes things clearer.

When talking about (or to) machines, precision is required. Machines can't "do what we mean, not what we say." By my reckoning, this is the basis of probably 90% of people's frustration with machines. So when we describe what we want to do with a device, we have to be very clear because it may be designed to do very similar things that are described in only slightly different ways. Sometimes we have to invent terms to eliminate ambiguity - we create jargon.

Today my fiancee IM'd me and asked me "I want to play music from the internet. What program do I need?" I proceeded to tell her to open iTunes and click the "Radio" button and find some internet radio stations. What she was actually asking was how to play a certain audio file type - in this case Real Audio. The solution to her problem wasn't difficult - go to RealMedia's site and download the free RealPlayer - but getting to the point where both parties understand the real question is often what is the most painful part of the problem-solving process. If she had said "What program do I need to play a .RAM file," I would have known immediately what to say. But many people are either too afraid to try to use this kind of jargon, or somehow think it's unnecessary.

I don't want to turn this into a diatribe about my communication difficulties with my fiancee, so let me just say this problem is common when it comes to solving problems with electronics. People need to realize that technical terms are there for a reason and if we could get away with using "everyday language," we would. Jargon is our friend. We must use it wisely.



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