Computer parlance - the divide between geeks and users

2009-10-18 17:59:00

I try to help out people with computer/network questions on various online fora, like Tweakers and One more thing. One of the things that frequently leads to both confusion and frustration is the divide between the parlance of true geeks and normal users.

For example, take this thread where people discuss the ins and outs of the UPC broadband service. Many, many times will one see frustration arise between the lesser experienced members and the veritable geeks regarding the usage of m/M and bit/byte.

As in:

* m versus M = mili versus mega = 10^-3 versus 10^6

* bit versus byte = 1 bit versus 8 bits

Normal folks will happily mix their m's and their M's and their bits and their bytes, not caring about the meaning of either. They reason according to the famous adage "Do what I mean, not what I say". So you'll frequently see things like:

Until two days ago I could happily download at a well-deserved 30mbits, which today fell to a miserable 5mbits. Then I rebooted the modem and now it's back up to 3.5mbits, so I R happy.

Does that sound confusing to you? Because to every true IT geek out there it does! So now there's dozens of folks like me berating the folks who keep mixing stuff up to "get it right because you're not making sense". Of course we are then in turn labeled as nitpicks (or "comma fornicators" as the dutch term would translate). The thing is, even though SI units are piecemeal to every (IT) geek, it seems that most "normal" people don't know all of them.

Sure, they know their milis from their centis and their kilos from their decas, but I don't think anyone in primary or high school usually deals with megas or anything bigger. Pretty odd, since you'd imagine that science class will cover stuff like megaWatts etc. A quick poll with Marli (who is otherwise a very intelligent AND computer-savy person) supports this idea: she knows "m", but not "M" and doesn't know the difference between a bit and a byte.

Ah, what're you going to do? I don't think this is a divide we'll quickly bridge, unless we unify to a completely new unit for measuring network speeds :) Might I suggest the "fruble"?


Mind you, I didn't write this just to rant. As an aspiring teacher I actually -do- wonder how one would best work around such a problem. Verbally there isn't any ambiguity because one would always say "mbit" or "megabit" in full. But in writing there's much room for laziness and confusion, as discussed above. So, what do you do as a teacher? Do you keep on hammering your students to adhere to the proper standards? To me, that does make much sense.


*sigh* Then again, if even the supposed "professionals" can't get it right, who are we to complain. Right? =_=;

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