Friday, April 11, 2008

Great Comparison 

In this article, IBM's Chief Technology Officer explains the speed of a new computer chip by saying it will complete a cycle before a light beam travels from the knuckle to the tip of one's index finger. Now, that is a great image. The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second or, as NASA puts it, in one second, light would "circumnavigate the equator approximately 7.5 times." So, here is a chip completing a duty cycle in approximately an inch and three-quarters of the distance a light beam would travel.

Kudos to the individual who figured that out and to IBM for using the analogy. It has one saying, "I wish I had thought of that."

Explaining technical details is difficult. I've struggled with it for years. A client is excited by a product, but after I read a turgid list of speeds and feeds, what is there to say? It is too easy to use jargon, so I do. I am guilty of this regularly, as my colleagues will attest.

There is also an arrogance in using esoteric terms. One proclaims that he or she has joined the "brotherhood of insiders." What we should be doing, of course, is translating technology into layperson's terms, as IBM did.

This article is a needed reminder to all who write about technology. Keep it simple, stupid. Everyday analogies are best. Bring concepts to the reader. Don't force the reader to reach for them.


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