Sunday, November 20, 2005

Return to innocence

Remember when you were a child, trying to reach out to the world; every new sound was an experience, every word a question!

In trying to grasp the fundamentals of communication we realized that every word was merely a representation of some real world phenomenon; and meaning provided the necessary relation to attain understanding. Some words tend to have more meaning than others. For example, an apple can be sufficiently defined as ...

"a white fruit with 5-7 seeds at the core and a moderately thick skin which may be red, yellow or green in color"

...but inertia would require something to the effect of ...

"the tendency of a body to remain at its state of rest or of uniform linear motion until an external unbalanced force acts upon it."

In other words, some 'words' warrant more than meaning, they need a definition. A collection of definitions of related words more or less defines the linguistic scope (vocabulary) of that field.
The IT industry, much like the rest of the engineering field, has always been riddled with a gargantuan vocabulary. In their need for precision (and sometimes exclusivity), engineers tend to name and define every little concept and action encountered. In an environment like this it is essential that the fundamentals are not lost. Fundamentals truly are the building blocks of a strong understanding. A quick observation reveals that most complex concepts either build on or combine smaller more fundamental concepts to enhance a set of relationships between them. As a logical conclusion, if your fundamentals aren't strong, your understanding rests on shaky foundations!
By now you're probably asking yourself, "So what are we looking at wrong?"

Sad to say, but it is our outlook to the vocabulary itself. The inhumanly fast pace of the IT industry leaves little time for the crystallization of foundations. Over simplification of concepts through vague metaphors and analogies is just one of the corners often cut in this race. This often leads to over generalization of terminology by trivializing their meaning. Subsequently, learners tend to stretch terms too far without defining or (worse) understanding the context. [Refer my previous post on Continuous Care vs Initial Design]

Building a vocabulary isn't just knowing the words, it involves learning the words, meaning and all.

Let us return to innocence, to a time when we weren't ashamed of asking what words meant and why; and taking our time to understand them.