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© 2010 Ugur Akinci
I have a smart mom. She is approaching 80 God bless her yet she is on the Internet. I really admire her tenacity and her lack of techno-phobia. Although she does not have a college degree, she did what millions of her peers failed to do: she joined the “cyber revolution” with great gusto. She is online every day whole day, sending me emails and forwarding everything that catches her fancy. I salute her and hope to be an equally agile elderly when I’m her age.
Yet there’s a problem with all that: my mom is proof positive that I’m perhaps not as good a technical communicator as I fancy I am. Why? Because I fail to communicate to my mother the difference between a Browser and the Internet, among other things. It’s really not easy and I know it’s not her problem; it’s my problem.
Think about it… how would you explain what Internet is, what a server-client architecture is, or how a browser works to an eighty year old lady who first started to use a computer four years ago?
I tried to use the good-old “highway and traffic” analogy and it worked for a while.
I said “mom, think of the Internet as the Highway, and the browser as a car. There is one highway [which of course is not strictly true] but many different types of cars. So what you call “E” [Internet Explorer] is just a car brand. The “Fox” [as my mom refers to the Firefox] is yet another car brand. So it really does not matter which car you take for a spin on the highway as long as the highway is open.”
This was all after her complaint that she could not reach her favorite web sites since “The E” was shut down for forgetting to pay her monthly Internet account fee. I tried to explain to her that “The E” would never shut down since it’s “a car” but her Internet access would since it is “The Highway.”
She said she’s got it but the next day I received another e-mail about how her Fox was again “shut down” due to the same billing problem. It’s all taken care of now and I’m happy to report that my mom is back online both with E and the Fox.
Yet the question remains: how can we explain how all this complicated gadgetry works to someone like my mother who is smart but does not have the background to understand what a “server” is, or what kind of a “language” “HTML” is? I find that a fascinating challenge and will continue to work on it with all the creative analogies I can find.
Are you faced with similar challenges in your daily life as a technical communicator? What are your strategies and suggestions? Please feel free to share…