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Talking tomorrow

Wed, 11/18/2009 - 5:24am
Alix L. Paultre, Editor in Chief

alix paultreRecently I posted a reference item on the term “Bunny Suit” to www.everything2.com (participating in sites like that is how I “doodle in the margins” during my work day), and the essay made me think of other terms we use, and why we have so many unimaginative words for such exciting technology.  Terms like “Bunny Suit” and “ballast”, which are intuitive and descriptive, are often old terms dating from when people called things names based on their perception of them as they related to items they already knew. Other terms, like “television” and “phonograph” are also older terms, coined to inform as well as label, terms made from root words based on core tech and application.

As far as recent terms go, only “Bluetooth” (both descriptive and poetic) ranks up there with novel vernacular worthy of preserving. Many engineering terms are simply sounded-out acronyms like “vick-sell” and “row-hass”. Again a comparison can be drawn to terms created earlier, like the tech acronyms created to be used as terms, like Laser and Radar.

What happened to the famous engineering wit? You designers are creators of more than tech; you create the very future around us as we go along. The terms you use to label your components and technologies are not only going to be used by your organization and clients, they will be used by the entire world whenever they refer to the devices and products using it. This is not only a good artistic idea; it is also a savvy marketing move, as an interesting, intuitive, and imaginative name can promote a product on its own.

Let me know if you have better terms for any of the current (or coming) tech than those we are using now, and I’ll compile the terms and present them to everyone in a later column. With any luck, we may even find a couple that will be picked up and used by the industry. We only have ourselves to blame for boring technical terms.

Another aspect of talking about the future is how to manage and regulate it. Issues such as the smart grid and net neutrality underscore how we are engaged in defining the use and management of developing (and often disruptive) technologies simultaneously as we create them. This is not an unimportant task, as how we set up the infrastructures, develop the protocols, and establish processes and procedures will also determine how well we grow out of our current problems. Infrastructure is a vital enabler that we treat lightly at our peril.

We must develop the smart grid as a national endeavor, ensuring interoperability, scalability, redundancy, and efficiency for every state and municipality in their country. We cannot allow special interests to gerrymander development nor rig the game to favor any business group or core technology. The grid of the future must be intelligent, dynamic, and able to manage any reasonable demand placed on it by both energy suppliers and users. (Private contributions to the grid delivered more solar megawattage last year than industry. We must recognize and encourage this development and related issues as we create the power grid of the future.

In the case of net neutrality, we must ensure that innovation and development are not stifled in the pursuit of profit. Too many companies see simple toll-keeping as a viable business model, selling access to the highest bidder instead of providing value-added services to create and grow their customer base and market share. One of the strengths of the web is the ability for everyone, regardless of size, to have an equal voice in the commons. The moment we begin to divide the commons into service categories it ceases to be a commons. If we allow service gating, we will eventually have an Internet populated solely by large media organizations. As much as I like being EiC of ECN, I also like playing with my friends at everything2.com and the other non-mainstream websites.

 

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