Communication, successful communication, is important in so many interactions but it became painfully obvious to me last week when I was trying to assist a customer over the phone. We were both speaking english but we weren’t communicating. This wasn’t the first time I have experienced this issue; but it was a severe case and one that finally pushed me to action.
The problem, as it appears to me now, is that a lot of vocabulary has been built up surrounding modern computing and the tech industries. To be clear, I am not talking about the highly technical language of designers, programmers, security specialists and the like; I am talking about the day to day language that our children have grown up with, and those of us in the industry or supporting the industry have struggled to keep up with. What appears to have happened is that the majority of our population has never been exposed to this vocabulary; until recently they had no reason to know of its existence, let alone understand the words or their application.
A few examples of the vocabulary I am talking about are the words Desktop, Icon, or App. For persons of my father’s generation Desktop is understood as the surface of their desk; my daughter would recognize the same word as identifying the work surface on her tablet, where the Icons for Apps can be quickly located. It turns out that it doesn’t matter which Operating System (another bit of vocabulary) you have or which User Interface you use, most modern electronic devices have a Desktop, with Icons, for Apps. Being able to recognize what they are and which is which is really helpful when someone is providing assistance but cannot see the screen. Numerous times I have asked a client to “go to the desktop” and find a specific icon, only to have the client tell me there is no such thing; I will usually then describe the desired icon only to be told no, it isn’t anywhere. My mistake was at the beginning; we didn’t understand Desktop the same and they weren’t seeing what I expected them to see.
So, I offer a few definitions in the hope that they will assist in the beginnings of a shared understanding. From this shared understanding I hope to build the basis for more successful communication.
Desktop: (from Wiktionary) The main graphical user interface of an operating system, usually displaying icons, windows and background wallpaper.
Icon: a discreet picture or symbol which may be on a desktop or menu to provide direct access to some functionality, Application (app), or program.
App: an application or program to realize some simple or complex function.
User Interface: the collection of controls allowing a user access to the features of a computer, tablet, phone, or other electronic device; often used o provide simplified access to the operating system of a computer.
Operating System: the unified definitions and controls that provide a link between the user interface and components of a computational device. MS Windows is an integrated Operating System and User Interface; while IOS is a User Interface.
Browser: an app or program designed to provide generalized access to the internet or internet style content.
These definitions are not exhaustive; but are specific to the topic of providing a basis for a shared understanding when working on or talking about modern computers. I hope to provide more definitions next week in a follow up article to fill in some of the blanks left by this article.