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Public Confused by Tech Lingo 1041

the_helper_monkey writes "The BBC has an article about how tech jargon confuses the public. It's based on a survey done by AMD asking the definitions of words such as megahertz, MP3, and Bluetooth. " I was recently reminded of how big a deal this is while trying to help my tech novice brother select a computer. If you don't know what a gigabyte is, it's hard to know how large of a hard drive you need.
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Public Confused by Tech Lingo

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  • by jmays ( 450770 ) * on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:20AM (#6390976)
    j00 d0n7 u|\|d3r574|\|d m3 1337 5p34|????

    But seriously, back when I was on phone tech support, half of the battle was describing things without using tech jargon. The other half of the battle was having patience. Thank goodness I am not doing that any more ... I do love the jargon of tech.
    • by kp833 ( 608343 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:33AM (#6391142)
      In promulgating your esoteric cogitations and articulating your superficial, psychological and sentimental observation. Beware of platitudinous ponderosity. Let your extemporaneous decantations, unpremeditated explanations have voracious veracity without any rodomontade and thrasonical bombard. Sedulously, avoid all poly-syllabic profundity, pussilanimous vacuity, pestiferous profanity and similar transgressions.
    • by geekmetal ( 682313 ) <[vkeerthy] [at] []> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:42AM (#6391279) Journal
      "The technology industry must simplify its vocabulary so that consumers around the world can better understand the benefits technology can bring to their lives," said Patrick Moorhead, chairman of AMD's Global Consumer Advisory Board, which commissioned the study.

      A better idea would be to educate those who need to understand the vocabulary wouldn't it?
      We need the vocabulary, re-defining it would be painful and take a long time. The practical thing to do here is for the tech people help educate the non-techies (as far as patience can take us).

      • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @11:07AM (#6391555)
        >> A better idea would be to educate those who need to understand the vocabulary wouldn't it?

        With respect, this is more than just a very bad idea. This is why real people think techs and geeks are arrogant dweebs who live on another planet.

        The vocabulary is important to people inside the industry because it (usually) allows them to communicate quickly and precisely about matters that are important to them. These matters are not important to the rest of the world.

        The vocabulary is not important to the people who consume what techs and geeks build. They have their own vocabulary. Since almost everyone in the world is neither a tech nor a geek, it might be wise for techs and geeks to start speaking something other than gibberish to the people who ensure their incomes.

        For example, I'm sure that an entirely different vocabulary has grown up around automotive engineering during the last century. Do people who buy and drive cars need to learn that vocabulary in order to use an automobile? No. They know what is important to them, and if an auto maker fails to deliver that, regardless of what words are used to name or describe it, they'll sell few cars.

        Ditto for tech stuff. People need to know "How many movies will fit on this drive?", not listen impatiently as someone explains what gigabyte means. Or, "If plug this wireless thing into my PC in the den, can I carry my laptop into the backyard and get on the Internet?", rather than listening to someone drone one about protocols. (The almost certain result of that one-sided converstation will be the real person's conclusion that the tech is unwilling to speak in understandable terms. Not unable, but unwilling.)

        A much more serious example of a failure to communicate on the part of a specialized minority can be the medical profession. Doctors and caregivers put their patients' lives and health at risk if they don't communicate in a way that the patient understands.
        • Yes they do (Score:5, Insightful)

          by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot.keirstead@org> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @11:18AM (#6391726) Homepage
          Everyone needs to know a minimal set of vocabulary to purchase and oeprate anything. Sure a person does not need to know what horsepower is to drive a car. But do they need to know whata Gigabyte is to operate a computer? The answer is no. Sure they should know what it is if they are BUYING a computer..just as a consumer should know what horsepower is when buying an automobile. The problem isn't that the vocabulary is too difficult, it's that people are too lazy to learn it.
          • Re:Yes they do (Score:5, Interesting)

            by gcondon ( 45047 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @11:48AM (#6392132)
            I agree. In fact, I find the most important vocabulary for new users to learn is GUI terminology - i.e. window, menu bar, scroll bar, tab, pane, etc.

            Whenever you are trying to help a newbie over the phone or via email or IM, the biggest obstacle seems to be accurately communicating where they are, what they see, and where to go. Given that GUIs are built upon metaphors to the real world, this terminology should be the easiest to learn but often that is not the case.

            How many of the comical tech support stories that have become ingrained in the mythology of the information age revolve around difficulties describing visual interfaces?
          • by boinger ( 4618 ) <<gro.uoy-kcuf> <ta> <regniob>> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @01:10PM (#6392995) Homepage
            I completely agree. If I didn't know the lingo, I wouldn't have known to upgrade to an extra strength Muffler Bearing and Forged Kuhneutson Valve. And, of course, with all that extra power, I needed the Cross Drilled Brake Lines. I don't normally reveal my sources, but I trust the Slashdot crowd - my supplier [] kicks butt! They have everything in stock to get your car ready for serious driving!

            Thank God I found a local mechanic who was honest enough to make sure I had these pivotal items installed. I can't believe the DOT doesn't require them!

            Seriously. Every consumer should take the time to become as educated as I have.

        • by suwain_2 ( 260792 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @01:08PM (#6392986) Journal
          What do you recommend we use? If people are confused by tech terms, what units should we use? "This will hold up to 40,000 Word documents?" The number of MP3s? This might help some people, but frankly, it's about as accurate as measuring the area of a closet based on "Things it can hold" -- if you have Word documents of things like Shakespeare's complete works, you're going to fit way fewer Word documents on a computer than if you had 1-page letters to friends. Bytes make sense, and they're the true limit. There's no limit that you can fit, say, the 40,000 Word documents -- it's when you run out of bytes that you have a problem. I guess what I don't understand is what you'd have us use instead. A lot of stores now have things that will say, for example, you can store up to 24 hours of video on hard drive X, or 30,000 MP3s. But throwing away the 'real' terms entirely will cause havoc, as people don't understand why they could only fit 5,000 MP3s, each an hour-long speech, onto their hard drive that was supposed to hold 30,000. We need to help them to understand -- not ramble about how a byte is 8 bits, but rather something more like "Well, the average MP3 is about 5 megabytes -- five million bytes. This hard drive will hold up to 80 gigabytes -- eighty billion bytes..." You give the example of the medical profession, and how few people actually understand many of the terms. My doctor does what I recommend people do with computers -- he'll use a medical term, but then explain what it means. If he told me "You have a condition where you have to watch what you eat or you'll die," and then I tried to explain this to another doctor, he wouldn't really know what I was talking about. But if he told me (fortunately, this is just an example) "You have type 2 diabetes. This means..." and gave me a (concise and easy-to-understand) example, I'd know the term, _and_ understand what it meant. My doctor's always done this, and it gives me great confidence in his abilities, and is frankly kind of neat to learn about things, rather than having overly simplistic terms used. The key isn't to stop using tech terms, the key is to explain them in a way that makes sense to ordinary people.
        • by pla ( 258480 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @01:27PM (#6393152) Journal
          With respect, this is more than just a very bad idea. This is why real people think techs and geeks are arrogant dweebs who live on another planet.

          And at the same time, the reason we geeks consider the masses as unbelievably stupid sheep.

          These words don't have an arbitrary basis (beyond the arguement that all words reflect a set of arbitrary choices several thousand years ago)... Basic engineering terms with SI units to quantify them. Really, only "byte" counts as a truly "unique" word people need to understand. Everything else simply describes, in terms existing quite happily outside computer tech, physical aspects of the component. (Okay, "mouse" seems like a new word (or use thereof), but people don't have much trouble with that one).

          While techies can certainly make an effort to explain their use of words that get a blank stare, the mindless masses still deserve much of the scorn we heap upon them. For example, memory vs HDD space - Really NOT a tough distinction, at least at a high-level. One stays around after you shut off the machine. Simple as that. Yet people can't remember even that much. Even worse, now that we tend to measure both in gigabytes (oooh, those nasty SI units Americans in particular seem to hate, as I learned many years ago in a college intro-bio class). Of course, confusing them on the basis of using the same units to measure them strikes me as equally sensible to confusing my penis and my monitor because I could measure both in inches.

          Do people who buy and drive cars need to learn that vocabulary in order to use an automobile?

          Yes. Try to drive a car without knowing what an "accelerator", "brake", or possibly a "clutch" does? Without knowing how many "gallons" or "liters" of fuel the car holds, and how far I can drive on that? Without knowing what a "defroster" does and the farly standard symbol that will appear on the button for it? Same issue. If people want to use computers, they need to learn the basic parts and the units of measure for those parts.

          Ditto for tech stuff. People need to know "How many movies will fit on this drive?", not listen impatiently as someone explains what gigabyte means

          Yes, people want answers phrased like that, but simply can't have them without a better understanding of the question. What codec? what bitrate? How long of a movie? Any "quick" answer makes a lot of possibly unsafe assumptions. Similar to your automobile analogy, someone might "know" that 10 gallons of fuel in a typical car should take them (at least) 200 miles over the deathly-hot desert to the next town - Oops, forgot to mention they drive an '82 Dodge Dart, getting 12 miles to the gallon. "They gonna die" for wanting a "simple" answer without any contextual understanding.

          These matters are not important to the rest of the world.

          No excuse exists for willful ignorance. If a term confuses me, I look it up. If I need to really grasp it, for example to properly use something I spend several hours each day using, I research related conceptual territory until I grasp the ideas behind the word. I don't only do this for computer terms, but for medical terms, automotive terms, knitting terms, audio terms, whatever. "Jargon" only provides an excuse for not knowing a word the first time someone hears it.

          THAT makes me a geek, and explains why we deride the sheeple so venemously - Because most people will not even look up a word they don't know, prefering to stay ignorant. Unforgiveable, and those of us who do take the initiative to better ourselves most certainly should not accomodate those too lazy to do likewise. They want to stay ignorant? Fine, they can serve my fries (until we completely automate the fast-food industry) and I'll spare them the jargon.

          The world moves on, with us or without us.
        • by An Onerous Coward ( 222037 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @01:59PM (#6393507) Homepage
          You're absolutely right. Instead of saying "megahertz," we should say "three billion individual operations every second." Instead of "MP3 file," we should say "pirated Metallica songs." Instead of "Bluetooth," we should say "magic." Finally, "PVR" should be replaced "illegal content theft enabler."

          Wow, I'm understanding this, I mean, "nifty stuff I can spend money on"... already. :: end sarcasm ::

          Beneath a certain critical threshold, I have to stop blaming the experts, and start blaming the masses who refuse to make any effort to educate themselves about the devices.

          As far as the medical profession goes, sure there are many doctors who think that using thick jargon makes them sound smart--and therefore trustworthy. It's a bad strategy. But if someone doesn't know what basic medical terms like "pancreas," "antibody," "virus," and "cell" mean, there's not a whole lot a doctor can do to communicate with them. At that point, it's the patient who is putting his/her own life at risk.
    • by jkrise ( 535370 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:47AM (#6391335) Journal
      XP : full form eXPee - fermented urine; sewage.
      NT : Not Trustworthy - for MS, that is.
      MicroSoft: A microscopic, kind-hearted organisation. .Net : Used to catch .Fish; also undefined, nebulous technology.
      DRM: Digital Restrictions Managaement
      TCPA: Treacherous Computing Platform Alliance
      SCO : short for SCOurge; root of all evil.
      XML : eXtremely Munged Language.
      GNU : Great New Unix

    • by Jucius Maximus ( 229128 ) <> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:54AM (#6391408) Journal really can't read slashdot without going blind unless you have very specific sets of knowledge.

      When I started reading slashdot some years ago after 'graduating' from C|Net, I had to look quite a few things up before I understood the conversations. People kept talking about something called Mozilla which I eventually realised was a web browser ;-) (This was back in the Milestone 0.7 days.) I eventually realised that an OS and the GUI were separate things and Linux wasn't simply that desktop I saw when I booted Corel Linux one time. And at that point, I could already take a computer apart, put it together again, set up networks and such.

      Now here is an exercise for you: Load up the slashdot homepage in another browser tab. Now go over the homepage word by word. Would your mother understand each of these words? Or your boss? What percentage of sentences would your mother not understand?

      Sometimes I forget that it takes an immense amount of time and reading each week even for people like you and me to keep up with everything on this front. The general public ... well ... it doesn't have a chance.

      • by questamor ( 653018 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @11:26AM (#6391837)
        Or just as useful: pick a site that delves into technical information of a kind you're completely unfamiliar with.

        Medical geek stuff fascinates me, and it took quite a bit of time looking around sites with medical info before a lot of it sunk in and I could understand the terminology without relying on little "layman's terms" articles that were my saviour in the early times. Perhaps months of browsing these sites gave me the info and experience I needed.

        That's all fine if you're interested in the subject and want to put the time in, but when Consumer Joe goes to buy a PC and is confronted with our kind of jargon, he just doesn't have the time to go remember it all AND research, cos he doesn't give that much of a shit. He wants to email, do some stuff with photos, browse a bit and play some games.

      • by Chewie ( 24912 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @01:07PM (#6392969)

        Load up the slashdot homepage in another browser tab. Now go over the homepage word by word.

        Not fair! The front page currently has a story about .Net, and I don't think anyone knows exactly what the hell MS means at this point.

  • by numbski ( 515011 ) * <> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:22AM (#6390998) Homepage Journal
    In other news:

    Terms such as 'baffled', 'flummoxed', and 'jargon' consfuse the general public.
    Techs are confused by general public's Lingo.

    Sorry, if you're going to write a story about people being confused by big words, please don't use big words to describe how people don't understand big words. Your target audience is then people who can't understand big words. Don't you know we have to dumb down everything for the uneducated people coming out of our schools?

    Oh, wait, where is that contradicting report that says the people coming out of our schools are more tech savvy than ever. But they aren't getting educated gaddammmmit. :P

    On a side note, techs don't understand techno-babble either:

    "The jig is up!"


    "The *gig* is up."

    "1.21 Jiggawatts???"


    "1.21 Gigawatts????"

    So exactly how do we all keep screwing up by saying "Gig" instead of "Jig" when we probably heard it right most of our lives?
    • Re:In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gowen ( 141411 ) <> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:28AM (#6391079) Homepage Journal
      if you're going to write a story about people being confused by big words, please don't use big words
      This isn't about big words, its about Jargon. Jargon is specific to an area (in this case "tech"). You're a (presumably) educated american, but if I were to start talking to you about "40/20s", "sets of six" and "dummy halves", you'd almost certainly be mystified.

      Not because its complex, but because its jargon from a field in which you're not very proficient (unless, of course, you're America's only Rugby League fan...)
      • by niko9 ( 315647 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:49AM (#6391370)
        You're a (presumably) educated american, but if I were to start talking to you about "40/20s", "sets of six" and "dummy halves", you'd almost certainly be mystified.

        "40/20s"=hip and waist size?
        "sets of six"=tight abs?
        "dummy halves"=twin blondes?

        You're talking about HOT CHICKS aren't you!!!? :P
      • Re:In other news (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Klaruz ( 734 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @11:00AM (#6391475)
        Huh? Rugby jargon isn't something you need to know to function in society. Neither is rock climbing, football, stained glass or shoe repair jargon. You need to know computers though. A better example would have been ABS, V6, Cruise control, etc. Jargon? Yes. Stuff to know it if you're buying a car? Yes. (You need a car in american society unless you're one of a small percentage of people who live in a city with good alternative transit.)

        I can't think of any other piece of technology that people refuse to learn. TV, VCR, car, thermostat, playstation, jukebox, microwave, etc. All things people learned how to use. Computers? Nope, sorry.
        • Oh yeah? (Score:5, Funny)

          by Dephex Twin ( 416238 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @11:16AM (#6391694) Homepage
        • Re:In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

          by radish ( 98371 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @11:42AM (#6392058) Homepage
          Let's see...

          Playstation - switch on, shove disk in, play game.
          Thermostat - adjust dial to desired temperature.
          Car - common interface taught and tested by law. Big wheel, stick, bunch of pedals. Even so, a lot of people take a long time to learn to drive.
          Microwave - Simple timer and "Low/High" button.
          Computer - well...let's see.... different O/S (XP/NT/98/OSX/MacOS9/Linux/BSD/...), different apps (MSOffice/Photoshop/StarOffice/IE/Moz/...), disks (floppy/cd/cdr/hdd/dvd), processor (AMD/Intel/IBM/whatever), memory (RAMBUS/ECC/DIMM/SIMM/DDR), monitor (CRT/LCD)...I could go on. Hardly comparable!

          My mum's understanding of TV extends to "plug it in, plug the aerial in, grab the remote, press the red button". She can get about as far with a computer (in fact, with the iMac I bought her she's quite proficient at what she needs to do). But does she know what a GB is? Nope. Or would she figure out whether a 2Ghz P4 is faster or slower than a Athlon XP2000? Doubt it (can anyone?) On the other hand would she understand the difference between interlaced and progressive scan, or NICAM and HiFi Stereo, or DTS and DD5.1? Again, probably not.

          The problem is that buying/operating a computer requires a lot more knowlege than other things (or rather, we think it does). I don't know a lot about cars, so I rely on reviews and sales people to guide me. We geeks laugh at people who do the same with computers because we know so much more, in fact if someone just walks into a store and buys a PC they'll probably get something perfectly good, if not ideally targetted to their exact personal needs.
        • by GileadGreene ( 539584 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @11:48AM (#6392133) Homepage
          Huh? Rugby jargon isn't something you need to know to function in society.

          I guess you've never visited New Zealand... ;-)

    • Re:In other news (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mr.henry ( 618818 ) *
      So exactly how do we all keep screwing up by saying "Gig" instead of "Jig" when we probably heard it right most of our lives?

      This is an interesting piece of computer related pronunication trivia. The word 'gigabyte' (think 'gigantic') is apparently correctly pronounced with the 'j' sound. I've never, ever heard anybody actually say 'jiggabyte' though..

  • Here. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Randolpho ( 628485 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:22AM (#6390999) Homepage Journal
    Just tell them to go here: <a href="">The Jargon File</a>.
  • Linux (Score:5, Funny)

    by mao che minh ( 611166 ) * on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:23AM (#6391011) Journal
    The most commonly butchered tech-related word. What's that Lie-nucks thing again?

    I never thought about it, but we must sound really funny to non-technically inclined people. "Yea, I picked up the Athlon 1800 XP, you know the one point five three three gig, and the dude was selling pc2100 for like 50 a stick of 512 so I figured what the hell, cause Galaxies was running choppy with my old 133 stuff and the 64 meg GeForce two I had."

    That must sound as bad as Star Trek dialogue to most people.

  • by KDan ( 90353 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:23AM (#6391015) Homepage
    Through basic generational education...

    Maybe some of the currently active generations don't know what a byte or a megahertz is, but more of each successive generation does know. When, as is likely, computer education will be a solid subject part of the primary school curriculum, this problem will vanish on its own.

    • by Little Brother ( 122447 ) <> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:45AM (#6391305) Journal
      As an elementary education major I can tell you you're being a bit optimistic. The current generation of teacher wannabes know less about computers than many people in their parents' generation. It is pitifull to think the person who was trying to figure out who had the better system, the one with 2.3 GHz or the one with 3 1/4 something or another (they were refering to the only number from the tech sheet they could remember, the size of the floppy drive) and nobody in a class of 20 knew any better. These people will be teaching your children soon. BTW this was at Middle Tennessee State University which is credited as having one of the better teacher education programs in the region.
      • by crazyphilman ( 609923 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @01:50PM (#6393405) Journal
        When I was in school, I was the "bright kid" in my class, and as a result, I was picked on endlessly by the other kids. This was sanctioned by the teachers. Once, I had mentioned that there were more than one ice age, because for show and tell I'd brought in some fossils from different periods. I'd gotten them from my father's cousin, who was a geolgist at a university in Virginia. The teacher called me a liar, and brought the science teacher over to explain to the class that "there was only one great ice age, everyone knows that". Then the kids picked on me for hours, as always.

        Elementary and middle school teachers seem to *always* be clueless, and not just about computers. You seem pretty sharp, like the exception that proves the rule, so don't think I'm targeting you here. I'm saying, in general they seem to be on the dumb side (at least mine were). One, Mr. Gilbert, once failed me for using the word "alas"! He screamed at me, "A sixth grader does NOT use the word ALAS!!!" I had to spend a half hour explaining it to the principal, for cryin' out loud. Ridiculous.

        The state of "education" doesn't matter, though. My kids are going to learn the way I did: my father used to bring me physics and science books that he got cheaply at work. I did the schoolwork I had to, to get through elementary and middle school, and I learned everything important on my own, by reading. I understood electromagnetism, geology, biology... All before I was in high school. I didn't need a teacher to tell me about it. Luckily, in high school I had some good teachers, and I learned a lot more.

        The thing to do is make sure you spend time with your kids, teaching them what you want them to know -- personally. Don't depend on some stranger to show them the light. Remember, "if you want it done right, do it yourself"...

    • by LoudMusic ( 199347 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:49AM (#6391368)
      What scares me, though, is that letting terms get defined and propagated by the general uneducated public tends to lead more toward inaccurate explanation of terms. Tell me again, what is 'memory' in a computer? I keep hearing "I have 3 gigs of memory available but it won't let me run Photoshop" - people need true education of terms, or someone to hold their hand through it all.

      Automobiles for example - people have no idea what's going on under the hood. They press the accelerator and it goes. Fill it with gas and it keeps going. If ever it stops going, take it to the man who fixes it.

      They either have to have formal education or be left completely in the dark. I think this applies to most subjects / areas of study, not just computers.
  • by GoofyBoy ( 44399 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:24AM (#6391020) Journal
    ... a little less than 2 music CDS. ... about the hard drive space you require for a full install of Diablo 2. ... about 4000 pr0n photos.

    Put it into terms that they can understand.
  • by msheppard ( 150231 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:24AM (#6391022) Homepage Journal
    Name any field (Computers, Engineering, Finance, Medicine, Skateboarding) and if you are not involved, you will get blown away by terminology.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I think you've got an epistemological problem with your teleology there, son.
    • by Transient0 ( 175617 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:39AM (#6391237) Homepage
      Absolutely. I don't see why it's news that people don't understand tech terms. If you are trying to get involved in computers and technology, you will pick up the jargon slowly, same as the rest of us.

      The only time when it really matters that the public don't understand the jargon is when they are trying to buy a computer. And even still, the same basic thing applies across almost every big ticket consumer purchase. You need a real estate agent to tell you how much a house is worth because you can't figure it out yourself. And if you go try to buy a mountain bike without knowing anything about them, someone might just be able to convice you that the $300 department store bike with dual suspension is a really good buy.

      If I was buying a car, I would ask someone who knew cars to help me pick a good one. Likewise, if you don't know anything about computers, ask a friend who does. I have helped many of my friends not get ripped off in the computer purchase decision (so long as they understand that helping them pick a box does not mean they are entitled to lifetime free tech support). If Joe Sixpack is too proud to ask his nephew to help him buy a computer, it's his own damn fault when he pays three grand for a Hewlett Packard that has been out of date for six months.
  • Solution (Score:3, Funny)

    by worst_name_ever ( 633374 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:24AM (#6391028)
    It's based on a survey done by AMD asking the definitions of words such as megahertz

    I submit that people would be much less confused if AMD would spec its processors in terms of megawatts instead. After all, we already know they are excellent space heaters. ;)

  • Unfortunatley (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ( 637314 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:25AM (#6391032) Homepage Journal
    Tons of stuff confuses the public, and if organizations like the RIAA can control the definition of terms (MP3 = piracy), than they could help disuade people from pirating (or sharing if that's your angle) music.
  • by Adam Rightmann ( 609216 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:26AM (#6391041)
    In that it can "weed" out the Joe Sixpacks out there who really have no business at all installing software, or hardware. Sadly, once "Joe Sixpack" has installed a DVD-burner, or some software, they start thinking they are computer masters, and rapidly rise to their level of incompetence. Haven't we all been burned by paper MCSE's who can do little but click buttons? Amusing enough at home, but deadly in the workplace.

    It's very analogous to the introduction of the vernacular Mass. When Masses were said in Latin, with the priest facing away from the people, it was a much more mysterious, deep experience. Now that English is used for Mass, the people, without the benefit of years in a seminary, have all become amatuer theologians, thinking that birth control, homosexuality and ecumenalism are all okay, instead of being the one way tickets to eternan Damnation that the Holy See has repeatedly declared them to be.

    So, I think we need more computer jargon, computer cases only openable by licensed tech, and a return to Latin Mass.

  • I don't buy it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bob Abooey ( 224634 ) <> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:26AM (#6391048) Homepage Journal
    The problem here is that the general public shouldn't even be concerned with the tech lingo. That's the job of professionals, not lay people. For instance I don't understand a thing about certain cooking terms, like basting or searing, but that's okay because I'm not a chef, so it doesn't affect me.

    The truth is probably that the blame for this is squarely on the head of Microsoft for trying to make the PC ubiquitous, like a toaster, when it's really an extremely complicated technology which the common man should not even try to understand, let alone use to it's full potential. But now that the Genie is out of the bottle, so to speak, it's too late to shove her back in and we (the professional IT community) are left to deal with the aftermath of Microsoft's behaviour.

    They (MS) got rich by marketing stuff to people with no business using it and we get the shaft.

    • Re:I don't buy it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sql*kitten ( 1359 ) * on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:49AM (#6391366)
      The truth is probably that the blame for this is squarely on the head of Microsoft for trying to make the PC ubiquitous, like a toaster, when it's really an extremely complicated technology which the common man should not even try to understand, let alone use to it's full potential.

      There were probably people like you saying the same thing about the toaster when it was first invented. And the car, noooo, what could the general public want with cars? Or phones? Or televisions?

      Technology isn't just for the "high priests". It's a product, plain and simple. Self-proclaimed "geeks" need to get off their high horses. You think you could afford that fancy computer if it wasn't a mass-market commodity?

      Ultimately, it's about power. Microsoft's only crime was that it brought computing to the "common man", bypassing the high priests of tech. Those people hate MS for undermining them. They'd like nothing more than for the "common man" to worship them. Instead, the average employee just wonders where the geek who's supposed to be replacing the printer cartridge is.
      • Re:I don't buy it (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Lysol ( 11150 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @11:25AM (#6391816)
        ..bypassing the high priests of tech. Those people hate MS for undermining them.

        I don't think that's the case at all. Remember, Apple was the company that brought the computer to the mainstream. Others followed, Commodore, Atari, etc. IBM brought the PC to the business world. M$, rode the wave much later. M$ commoditized everything via Windoze and later Office. This thing's been going on longer than M$ can take credit. It's just shifted, that's all.

        M$s' crimes have a lot more to do with other things than bringing the common Joe into the fray, all of which are well documented and don't need to be brought up once again.
        However, like American cars, we still don't get it like the Japanese do. They are the tech masters in not only production, but assimilation. Even the old folks are ooh'd and ahh'd buy the latest little gadget.

        The average U.S. mom and pop computer users wanna do only a few things:
        - send/receive email
        - im
        - maybe buy something at amazon (all hail the patent!)
        - maybe print out some pix via email

        That's it. In my experience, they care about very little else. So, my moms p2-350 still suits her just fine.

        I was in a store with a friend who wanted a PC and the guys was telling us 'oh yah, you want a 80-gig drive, 256megs of ram, and a 2ghz cpu at a minimum'. I was like, 'For what?! To run a gene sequence server outta your house or something?' He didn't know what gene sequencing was.
        Excuse me for being from the 8-bit old school days, but what the hell is the average mom and pop or 'un-educated' computer user need the above for email, im, amazon (all hail the patent!), and photos?

      • Re:I don't buy it (Score:4, Insightful)

        by poot_rootbeer ( 188613 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @11:31AM (#6391918)
        Microsoft's only crime was that it brought computing to the "common man", bypassing the high priests of tech.

        That, and the whole "repeated violations of antitrust law" thing...

        Besides which, if anyone deserves credit for bringing computing to the common man, it's Messrs. Jobs and Wozniak.
  • by L. VeGas ( 580015 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:26AM (#6391050) Homepage Journal
    "Memory" means how big the hard drive is.

    He calls floppies "tapes".

    To him the monitor is the computer.

    He calls the tower the hard drive.

    And he claims that I'm confusing.

    • He's wrong. (Score:3, Funny)

      by numbski ( 515011 ) *
      Don't you know that the tower is the MODEM, not the hard drive, for starters.

      The monitor is the thing you hold the paper up to for scanning, and that thing label "CD-ROM" is for holding your coffee!

      The last two are cliche, but I heard both waaaaaaay too much back when I was a parts jockey for Best Buy (thankfully faaaaar in my past).
  • by ( 410908 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:28AM (#6391074) Journal
    Techs are Techs, were created to get by the tech stuff and if possible stay in the basement NOT speaking to users in case they confuse them.

    Users are users, and, to copy the BOFH, the day a luser will have access to my Server Room, he'll have to do it over my dead body.

    For the rest, they NEVER understood Gigabit, they NEVER understood DHCP and it's all for the better.
    Next, they will tell me Users are confused by rocket science and everybody will get Ahhhh !!!
  • by AssFace ( 118098 ) <> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:28AM (#6391076) Homepage Journal
    I pointed out on the .NET thread that our company, prior to my arrivial here, paid waaay too much for a website recently because of a misunderstanding in terminology.

    One of the owners wanted the website to have a domain name that ended in ".net" because he felt that ".com" was associated with the US, and he didn't want to be associated with them (this company is an offshore company).

    That in itself is kind of funny, but then when the company he hired to do the programming was asking him what type of server he wanted it on and what language. He had no clue, but told them that he wanted the ".net" on it.
    They thought he wanted ".NET" and started it up.

    At some point the misunderstanding was seen on their side, but they just ran with it, seeing that he was pretty clueless and then overbilled us.


    He isn't totally clueless, he does know a tiny little bit - but that makes it worse.
    He just throws around buzzwords and it is a bit embarrassing/hilarious.

    His current thing is that he wants a PDA that plays MP3s, and that has a phone jack directly into it that will let him dial-up and check his e-mail, but also record conversations, but it can't be a Handspring product "because those are crap, and did you see that Palm is buying them out" as he told me.
    He was asking me the other day which he should try to get, "64K or 128K" in his MP3 player. I acted like he wrote "M" for megs and left it at that.

    He makes my days much longer than they need to be - otherwise, I would be doing more programming and less trying to get crap done for him.
  • by ACK!! ( 10229 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:28AM (#6391081) Journal
    Next we will find that most people do not understand history or how their political system is really run!


    I had the hardest time trying to explain the difference between memory as in RAM versus disk space to my mom when she looked for a computer.

    Then there are all these people that want computers to be as easy to understand and use as a toaster or something. They completely forget the vast numbers of machines and ledgers that the computer in the office for example replaces.

    How the hell is something that acts likes a typewriter, a ledger, interoffice communication device and research library (google and the 'Net) supposed to be as easy to use as a single use appliance? Answer it is never going to be that easy. That is not to say that things cannot get a hell of a lot better.

    The tech jargon is out there for the geeks among us fixated on the system stats. The regular user sees bigger numbers and ends up buying what all his friends have anyway. Looked deep into sports car numbers lately? Half of that crap is meaningless to me torque to dumbnut ratios for sports suspension and makes it more responsive but has the downside of... You get the picture.

    Wow jargon is confusing. I needed a study to tell me this?

  • AGP vs. PCI (Score:3, Interesting)

    by My name isn't Tim ( 684860 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:30AM (#6391096) Homepage
    I work for a Canadian Graphics Board company (bet you can't guess which one... hint it's not Matrox)and you'd be surprised how many people call tech support cause they can't get their new 500$ AGP card to fit in their 500$ computer which only has PCI slots
  • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:30AM (#6391101)
    Tech speak is confusing in it has its own vocabulary, but even if people could understand the vocabulary, there is still the daunting task of understanding the technology. For example, somebody might know that a megahertz is used to determine processor clock speed, but they might not understand that clock speed is not really a good measure of computing power even for the same company. A Pentium 4 1.3GHz will outperform a Celeron 1.3 GHz.
  • by ip_vjl ( 410654 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:30AM (#6391107) Homepage
    How many people know what 'horsepower' really is? Doesn't stop them from buying cars.

    Tech lingo (from any industry/profession) goes above the head of most people. It just means that maybe companies need to spend time explaining what the benefits of a device are ... and not spend so much time praising the specs. Leave the specs there for the informed consumer, but don't expect that someone like my mom will really know what the heck to make of a computer with more gigahertz, but a slower front-side-bus.

    I've seen some digital camera makers try to sort out the megapixel confusion by explaining what the size picture you can print (with acceptable quality) will be. That helps to make it accessible to people who don't know a pixel from a hole in the ground. "With this camera, I can do 8x10 pictures, with that one, I can do 5x7 pics." I'd want to know all the specs, but for most people, they just need to know if it does what they want it to do, they don't care what happens behind the scenes to get there.

  • by UID30 ( 176734 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:31AM (#6391120)
    When my old manager used to talk about "leveraging the synergies inherit in a business relationship", all i ever heard was "blah blah blah more work for you blah blah blah."

    It's only fair that when I talk about SMP architectures, S-ATA, Terabytes, 64-bit, distributed model computing, TCP, UDP, server farms, load balancers, and quad-port ethernet adapters ... that he think "blah blah blah boy that sounds expensive blah blah blah."
  • by GlassUser ( 190787 ) <slashdot&glassuser,net> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:32AM (#6391128) Homepage Journal
    I'm involved in teaching people who have little experience with computers and networks how to use them. They don't know a lot of the terminology. The problem is, they don't care to know it. They, like many in management, want to throw money at a problem and hope it goes away. The result that I see is that this gets them a lot of incompatible proprietary "solutions" that don't do what they want, though they're out a lot of money for it.

    I don't know what the solution is. They refuse education, instead preferring someone simply telling them something will work and being frustrated later.
  • by peatbakke ( 52079 ) <> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:32AM (#6391130) Homepage
    Bluetooth, MP3, RAM, cache, FIFO .. they mean very specific things, and are well suited for having their own names.

    Now, if you want a thrill ride of superfluous jargon, take a gander at the business "self help" section of your local book store.

    Or google for something called "Six Sigma."

    Business jargoneers have a nasty tendency to rename common ideas, wrap them in market speak to create buzzwords, and resell them to the helpless souls who seem to collect in middle managment.
  • by sourcehunter ( 233036 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:32AM (#6391131) Homepage
    First, does this REALLY come as a surprise to anyone?

    And is this really a problem? I know folks who are just now getting a cell phone - and they are 26-27 years old. I don't personally see how they ever lived without one, but I rely on mine for business, and I'm ususally so busy it is the ONLY way to find me. Same with a computer. I NEED to know what GHz, MHz, Bluetooth, WIFI, etc, etc etc is. I WORK in the industry. Does the average joe REALLY need a clue or even need most of this technology in their lives? Does it really even make their lives "easier?" You know what "they" say - "ignorance is bliss."

  • by BMonger ( 68213 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:33AM (#6391143)
    I don't see what the big deal is. While I understand computers quite well I didn't have a clue as to what I wanted in a TV, a surround sound system, and the like. So I did "research". I browsed around the internet, asked people I knew in the know, and after a bit of reasearch found exactly the best bang for my buck. There are plenty of resources online and even at your local library to understand "things". Go use them.
  • Listen (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jdavidb ( 449077 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:33AM (#6391144) Homepage Journal

    If you don't know what a gigabyte is, it's hard to know how large of a hard drive you need.

    And if you never listen to what you're told or bother to think about it, it's hard to know what a gigabyte is. I know there's plenty of people who haven't heard, but I just know a lot of people who like to revel in their ignorance. When someone explains something, they grin and say, "Well, that's just too complicated for me." Then they want someone else to work it out for them.

    In a land where everyone's proud of not being able to set their VCR clocks (in other words, proud of being too lazy to read simple instructions, or too scatterbrained to follow simple instructions), shouldn't warning bells go off whenever we elect such self-admitted technophobes to Congress and hear them assert, "We've got to get tough on computer crime!"?

  • Well of course... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by epiphani ( 254981 ) <epiphani@ d a l . net> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:33AM (#6391146)
    Of course the general public is not going to understand terms like MegaHertz and Gigabytes. Especially when the very article saying they dont describes MegaHertz as a measurement of how many times a part of the processor, called the clock, ticks every millionth of a second.

    Hell, even I wouldnt have defined megahertz that way. If you try and get the general public to understand computers literally, good luck. You need to simply educate them relationally. Tell them that the higher the number of MegaHertz, the more responcive the computer will be - it will act faster. If you're feeling brave, tell the its a measure of how many calculations the computer can do in a certain time period. Even that much might confuse them.

    You cant teach people literals when it comes to computers. The average person doesnt need to know, nor care to know that USB is the Universal Serial Bus, which supports up to 128 devices with a maximum cable length of 5 meters. They just need to know that USB is a different way to plug things into your computer.

  • by mikeophile ( 647318 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:33AM (#6391151)
    Wheel, fire, pointed stick?

    Could you dumb it down a little. I just don't understand all this technical jargon.

  • Oh boy (Score:4, Funny)

    by Faust7 ( 314817 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:34AM (#6391163) Homepage
    Public Confused By Tech Lingo

    In other news, the sky is blue, what goes up must come down, and SCO is full of it.
  • by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:35AM (#6391180) Homepage
    Okay, quick quiz.

    You're standing with a group of other people, discussing Company X's latest product. One of the people talking throws out an acronym that you've never heard before. You have absolutely no idea what this acronym may mean, as it was mentioned while the person was discussing a framework/language/methodology/technology that you've never heard of before.

    Do you:

    • Gently nod your head and maintain a visage of total and unwavering comprehension,
    • Remark, "Oh, good, I was wondering when they'd get around to supporting that natively,"
    • Say, "Odd that they chose to go with [unknown acronym], when [new acronym you just made up on the spot] does better in real-world tests," and hope they don't call your bluff,
    • Step away to get some coffee to keep from being put on the spot (thus revealing your ignorance on the matter,)
    • Say, "Have they managed to work the kinks out of their implementation of [unknown acronym]?" and hope to glean important clues to the nature of what that acronym is from the response, or
    • Say, "Uh-oh--gotta run--just remembered--" and leave the conversation to look up the unknown acronym on Google?

    Honestly, are any of us geeks ever willing to admit that we don't inherently recognize and grok every single term that is thrown our way? Isn't that part of being a geek?

  • by CrankyFool ( 680025 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:36AM (#6391184)
    Of course the public is confused by tech-specific lingo. It's for the same reason I get confused if I try to figure out where the Axle Seal is on my Miata, or what the hell SEC rule 17 CFR Part 270 means. Every major industry has its own lingo that has developed to make intra-industry communication as clear and precise as possible. They're labels, and we strive to make them as specialized as possible.

    The problem comes when Tech companies (e.g. IBM) attempt to use these labels to communicate with non-industry people. That we have these labels is not a problem (it is, in fact, a good thing). That we persist in using them with 'outsiders' is.
    In the end, it may be better to tell someone they can put 1000 hours of music on an iPod (which Apple has done) than "5 Gb of MP3s encoded at 128kbit." It sure is less precise -- what happens if you use 196kbit? Does it support Ogg? But hey, the vast majority of people who Apple is targeting to purchase iPods not only don't care, they wouldn't understand these differences.

    I'm not arguing for a dumbing down of all tech communications -- when I buy a RAID card, I want to know what RAID levels it can support -- but some products are naturally designed for outsiders and some are naturally designed for insiders. When in doubt, include both types of lingo (how would that work? I have no clue -- "3.2Ghz CPU with an 800 MHz FSB. / This processor is wicked fast and needs a really modern motherboard -- ask your kid for help!")
  • Good, Better, Best (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ToadMan8 ( 521480 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:36AM (#6391190)
    I think the best attempt at making this a null issue has been the "Good, Better, Best" campaign of companies like Monster Cable (makes uber cabling for upper consumer level to oxygen free braided ultra pure copper speaker wire for audiophiles)... They rate their own products in a tiered system. Some stores (Circuit city, for example) does this between brands in store as well.

    The public will never sit down to learn all of the jargon of the year when it comes to technology no matter it's importance to purchase decisions. Like people who don't have a workable concept of what exactally a horsepower is and how many they need (hey, one horse can carry a person right? so if my car holds 5 people and some luggage 6 HP should do it ;)) uninformed consumers come to those called expert consumers in the marketing world. Their friend the mechanic or the car buff (reads all the mags, knows their shit), or us, the slashdot readers and techies for their computer purchase needs.

    All in all, I don't think people not knowing anything about the technical aspects of what they are purchasing keeps them from doing so. I would chalk it up to the slow economy right now. Companies need to improve the purchase process and not shy away from technologicaly advanced language.
  • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:37AM (#6391201) Homepage Journal
    Wow, I didn't think we could get a less insightful article than the "Gamers aren't (always) Geeks", and then this comes along. Everyday people confused by computer terminology? Shocking!

    Think of other consumer goods, however, and you'll see the same thing. Can most people differentiate between the various input/output and resolution options available on modern TV's? Do they have any idea what a VTEC engine is on their new Honda? I didn't think so...
  • In other news.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lxy ( 80823 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:38AM (#6391223) Journal
    English is found to be confusing among non-english speakers.
  • by Lord_Slepnir ( 585350 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:41AM (#6391263) Journal
    This happened to me about two weeks ago with Comcast digital cable

    Me: Hi. I just installed OpenBSD on an old box, and I'm having trouble getting it to DHCP for an IP address.
    Tech Support: I'm not sure what you mean by DHCP, but we have it set up so that your computer will automatically get an IP address
    Me (rolling with it): Ok, but I'm still not getting an IP address
    Tech Support: What version of Windows are you running OpenBSD on
    Me (rather annoyed): OpenBSD is a form of Unix
    Tech Support (sounding annoyed): Fine then sir, what version of Windows are you running unix on?
    Me: Can you switch me to someone else?

    luckily, the next person was helpful (all we had to do was reset my modem), but it goes to show that there are people in the tech industry that don't know a lot of the jargon outside of Microsoft-speek.

  • by yarbo ( 626329 ) <moderkaka AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:41AM (#6391265)
    "Only slightly more than half correctly identified the definition of megahertz - a measurement of how many times a part of the processor, called the clock, ticks every millionth of a second." Megahertz doesn't only apply to microprocessor control clocks, it merely means 1 million cycles per second. This could be used to describe atoms, radio, or anything else that cycles really quickly.
  • Odd Survey Group (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zealot ( 14660 ) <(moc.oohay) (ta) (x45tolaezx)> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:42AM (#6391271)
    The PDF of the survey can be found here [].

    From Page 4
    "Because of objectives and
    subject, paper surveys sent
    by mail were used to avoid
    built-in sample bias from
    internet-based study"

    From Page 6
    Age mix
    - 35% Age 55+
    - 20% Age 45 to 54
    - 21% Age 35 to 44
    - 24% Age 34 and under

    Gender blend
    - 38% Male, 62% Female

    It looks like the ended up with a bias in the sample anyway. 55% over 55 years old, 62% female... I think it was already understood that technology confuses them.
  • by wowbagger ( 69688 ) * on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:45AM (#6391302) Homepage Journal
    It has been my experience that the public is confused by words - anything more complicated than "push here" is going to be trouble.

    I design fairly complicated equipement [] to be used by (supposedly) trained radio technicians. I recently sent out a replacement file to a specific customer to see if we had a problem he had reported fixed.

    Mind you, this customer was working to integrate our equipment into an automated test station - one would expect this person to have at least a cluon or two.

    In the instructions for the replacement file, I stated most clearly:
    Step 1: update the unit to the latest firmware.
    Step 2: after you have done the update, apply the attached replacement file.

    Pretty simple, huh? Guess what: the customer did NOT do the update first, and wedged the equipment.

    Now, had this been a true production update, I would have added check code to verify that the patch would not apply unless the firmware version matched, then I would have spent the hours validating that the check code actually would catch version mismatches, then released the patch. During all those hours I would NOT have been getting the other features ready.

    But this was one customer, and one that should have been more technically adept than most. So I felt that spending thirty seconds explaining the process would be a better use of my time than spending the hours to make it idiot-proof - after all, I was not dealing with an idiot, was I?

    The general public runs at just over the level of a caveman (no offense intended OOG if you are still listening...) - anything more complicated than "push here" will elude them (and given that I have seen footage of bank robbers foiled by a "PULL" rather than "PUSH" door, I have my doubts about that) It would seem the average person's reaction to any printed matter is "WORDS! WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE WORDS! OHH, MY HEAD'S ABOUT TO EXPLODE!"

    Granted, much of the terminology used in selling computers to the lay public is too complicated for them to understand, but trust me - trying to dumb it down won't work, unless you can determine how to describe a computer in grunts and pointing.
  • by bluesangria ( 140909 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:46AM (#6391324)

    It's to the advantage of marketers that the public is so ignorant about computers. It makes it easier to sell unrealistic expectations as well as worthless products. It also helps marketers differentiate between otherwise similar products.

    I kid you not, a computer store I shop at was selling battery backups for home computers that touted "Internet ready" in a bold red and gold splash on the box. Huh???

    I thought it might have meant that the modem line ran through the UPS to catch any surges through the phone line, but it didn't *have* any RJ-11 jacks to accomodate this speculation. I came to the conclusion that it was completely useless marketing spiel designed to play on the "Internet" buzzword.

    I strongly believe that computer awareness is the next "literacy" of this millenium - as essential as reading, writing and basic arithmetic. But the only way to accomplish that (on a nationwide level) is to *require* incorporating computer literacy into the curriculum of all schools and make sure all schools have the basic tools to teach it, ie. computers.

    (steps of soapbox)


  • by dmccarty ( 152630 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:49AM (#6391361)
    By the way, here's the original quiz [] given to the 1,500 survey set. The terms from the quiz are below.

    I think that the problem is an interesting reflection on the state of technology, and "technologists" themselves. For example, the test includes Megahertz, megapixel, download, web browser and Bluetooth--all good examples (IMO) of naming. "Bluetooth" may be debatable, but it's a distinct name for a distinct technology, and people who use technology should be aware of its capabilities. "Web browser" is another good name; unfortunately, Hollywood's and tech-illiterate journalists' insistence on "surfing the 'net" means that a good name is unknown by the public.

    On the dark side of the naming spectrum, the tech industry has given us some gems such as SMS, DVR, MP3 and dot pitch (all from the quiz). SMS and DVR are good examples of trying to pick a generic name that didn't step on any copyright holders' toes, but didn't adequately describe the product either. But perhaps the public is too picky. They learned about VHS, so why can't they learn about DVR.

    Dot pitch [] is a terrible misnomer but its roots are firmly entrenched in the display industry. Perhaps a better term would be "pixel density" or "image clarity," but then it's hard to associate a name like that with a value that gets better as it gets lower.

    MP3 is understandable: no one is going to get a friendly, trademarkable name from a group of geeks writing cutting-edge software. But the trademark issue itself it one of the culprits. How many nice names could we have for computer components if the most descriptive words weren't already trademarked?

    And finally, it's easy to point out to Houston that we have a problem. It's harder to realize what the problem's origins were and to appreciate the evolution of the computer industry in just fifty years. And it's most difficult to propose a workable solution and carry it through.

  • by stomv ( 80392 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:55AM (#6391421) Homepage
    If not, go to a website selling a new car. Lots of jibber jabber about power telescoping steering columns, intermitent windshield wipers, ABS, Limited Slip, 5.7 Liter V8, Sequential Fuel Injection, F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control, Fully independent suspension with transverse springs, front P245/45ZR-17, rear P275/40ZR-18, 18 gallon tank, 6.5 quarts oil, 11.5 quarts antifreeze, 16.1:1 steering ratio, 2.66 turns lock-to-lock, 39.4 foot turning diameter curb-to-curb, 22.6 sq inch gross lining on brakes (front), engine with 5655 cc, 375 pound-feet of torque at 4400 RPM manual, 6000 RPM redline, 10.1:1 compression ratio, a firing order of 1-8-7-2-6-5-4-3, head gasket thickness of 1.33mm, Bore x Stroke = 3.9 x 3.62 in, 19mpg city.

    Now, I don't have a clue what some of that stuff means. Other stuff I can understand, but I don't know why or if that particular configuration is any better or worse than another.

    When I buy a car, I don't care about most of those specs. I consider overall price (inital cost, financing, maintainance, and operating costs), reliability, functionality, and reputation. I know it's highly unlikely I'll ever do more than change the oil or replace a cheap (and easy to get to) part like an air filter or the power window motor. I won't use MotorHead magazine as a reference to help me buy a car... I'll use something much closer to Consumer Reports.

    All of this is A-OK. My ignorance won't prevent me from making a pretty good choice in my purchase of an automobile. Why would it stop others in their purchase of an MP3 player, flat screen monitor, or printer/scanner/fax/copier machine?

    Bonus points to whomever can figure out what car I (arbitrarily) chose...
  • by *weasel ( 174362 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:59AM (#6391471)

    people are just as confused with -any- profession specific jargon

    legal jargon
    auto jargon
    tech jargon
    aerospace jargon
    military jargon
    photography jargon
    math jargon

    c'mon people - if you aren't in a particular field, the lingo is alien to you until you've had exposure to it. and if you never hear it used in -context- of course you're going to be lost.

    the consumer only ever gets the high level marketing bulletpoint, and we all know how useful that is. so who's surprised by this?

    what we have in the tech circle though, is marketing educating the public in a vacuum, as geeks are more reclusive than, say, auto mechanics. so the -only- think people know, is what the marketroids tell them. and as marketroids don't know anything either - it's pure fabrication.

    education is difficult and expensive compared to marketing. obviously they're not going to bother with that.
  • by FortranDragon ( 98478 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @11:17AM (#6391699)
    I like how Apple does their iPod advertising. They say how many *songs* you can have on it. That makes it easy for people to understand what the iPod can hold. (Yeah, I know how you sample your music will change that number, but that's irrelevant to my point.) Instead of focusing on the nuts and bolts of the tech, Apple focuses on the end result.

    For example, if people want to push Linux onto the consumer desktop then this type of word of mouth advertising will be crucial. Consumers done care which technology is *best* technically (subjective many times), but how it is better for them from a practical standpoint. 'Generally virus proof/free (as in cost)/can install on all of your computers (no activation)/etc.' versus 'can scale up to 8-processors via SMP' or some such.

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @11:23AM (#6391802) Homepage

    For Bonjela [], I think, although as always, I had the TV muted to cut out the worst of the psychotronic radiation []. Anyway, the theme of the ad appeared to be that Bonjela can be used to cure mouth ulcers, and that it does so by by killing the tiny spikey demon person that lives inside them and causes you pain.

    So we've known about bacteria since the seventeenth century [], but we still believe - in a very real and fiduciarily binding sense - that Joe Lowest Common Denominator is more comfortable believing that mouth pain is caused by little demons. Specifically little spiney ones who dropped out of spiny demon mime school.

    And you wonder why AMD gave up on trying to explain why MHz don't matter? I'm surprised they don't market their chips based on multiples of Imp Power.

    Buy The New Efreet Chip! Now With the Power of Ten Genies, All Doing Your Bidding!

  • by NaugaHunter ( 639364 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @11:58AM (#6392270)
    The main difference between computer tech talk and other tech talk is that computers became part of the common daily life of people before they became truly commoditized (verbing nouns is always fun). When cars first came out, only hobbyists/rich had them and knowing tech set them apart as a club. Once they became cheap enough to become somewhat common (I'm thinking 50's), only the hobbyists really knew what the details meant, most people knew they sounded good. Nowadays even terms like 'overhead cam' are fading, as the public knows that all things considered, a car is a car. What are obvious it's factors: seating, color, looks, convenience. About the only tech most people would still would care about is mileage.

    Relative to that, personal-use computers are a young technology. But their usefulness and relative cheapness have spread them through the masses unlike virtually anything before them.* Thus, they are still growing and changing, and the details matter, but they are being used more and more by people who only care about the overall package. A problem that arises is that manufacturers can't easily advertise their usability features since they come from software, so they advertise the internal details. Not to start a war, but the differences between Apple and other ads reflect this. Apple has moved to trying to advertise what the computer will do for you. Other manufacturers have featured their tech lists. They are starting to switch over, like in the Dell commercials with interns, but instead of saying 'Let's you record CDs!' they still say 'Has 52X CD burner!'. Since the only thing that seperates most computers is the internal technology they won't lose it all, but hopefully they will start leaving out more and more.

    I don't think it's a bad thing per se. Yes, repeatedly telling my mother 'You don't have 40 GB of RAM!' gets tiring, but I try to keep in mind that what really matters is what she gets out of it, not what she thinks she knows about how it works.

    * One counter example of quick pervasiveness of new technology might be the telephone, or later devices based on it, but these never had a real tech-talk associated with them. Sure, marketers tried to introduce one with cordless phones (900Mhz! 2.4 Ghz! Digital, not cellular!), but most people just want a phone with decent features and decent pricing that works, regardless of how. This is probably true of computers as well; there are just few places that would admit 'Well, yes you can check your email and the web with that model' without adding 'but this one is 1.643 times faster with two times the memory for only $350 more!'
  • by earthforce_1 ( 454968 ) <earthforce_1@[ ] ['yah' in gap]> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @12:25PM (#6392537) Journal
    I still haven't exactly figured out what .net really is.
  • by switcha ( 551514 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @12:28PM (#6392566)
    Marketing is all about taking things and ideas and making them palatable to the general public. In the computer world, you try to give people catchy handles to reference technologies that are fairly obscure in their technical descriptions.

    Firewire -- IEEE-1394
    Airport Extreme -- IEEE 802.11g
    Bluetooth -- Full duplex radio in the 2.4 GHz spectrum
    (add your own)

    There's little things in most computers and apps that do a fairly good job of masking the tech behind them. It wasn't long ago that you had to type http:// into a browser window. Now most will assume that and go get the page.

    Hardware still has a way to go. RAM, VRAM, and hard drives are all fairly basic things that will frequently flunk the "Mom test". Maybe it's time for some 'unit' of memory and storage than help to explain what these do for the computer in a more colloquial terms.

  • by Jellybob ( 597204 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @12:29PM (#6392577) Journal
    I don't think the problem is really that people don't know what terms mean, but that everyone seems to think they matter at a basic level.

    At work I watched a new course being taught last week (second level word processing... including such joys as creating folders), and in this incredibly entry level course, there's a section on hardware... including asking people to say what the hard disc is.

    Except it doesn't matter what the hard disc is, beyond "you save files on it"... they weren't even really saving to the hard disc, but to one of the hard discs server in the room next door.

    And don't even get me started on the technical inaccuracies in the course. I could have slapped the person who was running (and wrote) the course, when she said "this is the hard disc". She was pointing at the case of the computer... if you want to show them a hard disc, say so - I have a small stack of them in the server room.
  • by mritunjai ( 518932 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @12:33PM (#6392609) Homepage
    General public can't understand terms like what is meant by 40GB Harddisk"

    That's because we don't put up things like they should be. I think "libraries of congress" and "Voxwagon beetle" are more suitable terms... hey dude.. this HDD can store 0.69865 libraries of congress and that computer goes 1.79 times faster than your Civic :-P

  • How sad, (Score:5, Funny)

    by pair-a-noyd ( 594371 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @12:35PM (#6392624)
    that so many people are so ignorant.

    I went to repair a PC once at a church about 18 years ago. The lady that used the computer to type letters for the pastor was bumfuzzled because "my TV won't give me a picture after I turned the brain on!"

    She called the monitor the "TV" and the CPU was the "brain". It was an old IBM XT.
    Turns out that she had turned the brightness down on the monitor because this was *way* before the days (IBM DOS 2.10) of screensavers.

    My dad still can't grasp the difference between RAM and hard disk storage after 10 years of me trying to explain it to him.

    MOST people call the CASE (the cabinet) the "hard drive"

    They know mouse, monitor, keyboard, CD. That's about it.

    I find it easier to explain the problem of filling the hard disk up like this.

    Your hard drive is like your refridgerator. You can only put so much beer in it before it gets to full to close the door. Once it gets filled up you have to take some beer (files) out to put more in.

    It's sad that most people can tell you how many times some football player farted in 1996 or the names of all the movies that some little twit starred in or name all the Brittney Spears songs but they can't put oil in a car or lawn mower, don't know the difference between the CPU and the hard drive, etc...

    If it doesn't involve sports, alcohol, or tv/movie stars they are baffled.

    I'm afraid there is little hope for mankind, ignorance truly is bliss...

  • by edunbar93 ( 141167 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @01:26PM (#6393138)
    In other news, a poll shows fewer than 5% of the public knows what "Dual Overhead Cam" means. Or could correctly define horsepower other than "what engines are measured in." Neither could they tell you what fuel injection was, what a transmission did or where it was situated in their car.

    This news stunned advertisers that have been using these terms to sell cars for the past hundred years. Ford motor company has recently launched a campaign to educate the public as a result of these figures. Experts remain skeptical about the effectiveness of such a campaign, citing the fact that this is 100 year old technology, and saying "if the public doesn't get it now, they never will."
  • by bigdavex ( 155746 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @01:33PM (#6393223)

    Instead nearly two-third said they "wish to have things work and not spend time setting up."

    What are the other third? Sendmail administrators?

    What a weird question.

  • by dsplat ( 73054 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @10:06PM (#6397259)
    Most people couldn't tell you the differences between varieties of wines; even people who can taste the differences without any trouble. That doesn't stop people from buying wine. And it doesn't stop people who've never learned French, but who love wine, from picking up a fair amount of French wine jargon.

    One of the reasons for the complaint is that a lot of people want computing appliances. And there are a lot more who don't really, but believe they do. Another reason is that tech, by definition, is rapidly changing. We add new jargon for new things. I have no idea what the latest bus technology for consumer computer products will be called 10 years from now. Nobody has a name for it yet. But I'll need to know that name 10 years from now.

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.