I like buttons that light up. I was about 15 when I walked into a real recording studio (Ike Turner’s Bolic Sound, in Inglewood, CA) and saw more lit up buttons than I had ever seen in one room before. The engineer in charge, whose name is now lost to me, was very generous with his time; explaining to me how the electrical signals in the recording chain are created by the air pressure changes that enter the microphones when sounds are made. These signals remain in the electronic realm until they are changed back into “sound” by the movement of speakers against the air. This “analog” between air pressure and electrical current is what distinguishes analog from digital recording (a moot point in 1973).
There’s a part of me that loves technology for its own sake, for the coolness factor, for the “ooooh” reaction that I have when, well, buttons light up. I’m sure that’s what originally drew me to the Internet. Now that I am (certainly) older and (hopefully) wiser, I am attempting to apply a more humanitarian view to my understanding and use of technology, particularly the use of the Internet. Here are a few thoughts on how to do this.
Use Your Online Voice
Many years ago, I took a performance class and the instructor told to, “sing as you speak”. In other words, if you’re not sure how to phrase or pronounce something in a song, think of how you would say it in your normal speaking voice. So too online do we need to speak in our natural voice. Techno-speak and sales-speak work very poorly here. If these arcane forms of speech are your natural voice, consider item two, below.
Speak To Be Understood
Closely related to using your online voice is tailoring your speech so that those that you’re speaking to can understand you. Avoid the use of words that your audience won’t understand. If you’re introducing new concepts, try and explain them using metaphors or examples. And if you must use acronyms, make sure they’re completely written out somewhere, at least once.
Sometimes being understood means not writing at all. Lately, I’ve been using screenshots and video screencasts as a substitute for writing out step by step instructions. The people that I’ve sent these to find it much easier to understand, say, how to upload documents to WordPress, when they can listen to me talk them them through the process as they watch it happen on their screen. I’ve been using Jing to create these and it’s dead simple.
Show Your Work
Very few ideas spring up out of nowhere (at least mine don’t). One of the great things about the web is the ease with which we can relate things to one another by linking to them. Using hyperlinks allows us to refer back to the source of an idea, provide additional detail or give credit where credit is due. They allow us to take part in the very human act of sharing, saying in effect, “if you’d like more information, take a look over here”.
These are just three ideas about how to humanize online technology. I’ll be writing more about this in the future and I’d love to hear your ideas too. Please add your comments.
Audio console photo by Steve Manson