Tech can’t talk: why the tech industry needs to speak human

Welcome end-users! We’ve all played buzzword bingo at meetings. While it’s fun to spot managers and even supposedly normal colleagues using words like leverage, mindshare and bandwidth, and perhaps even phrases like touch base, low hanging fruit and win-win situation, none of these come anywhere near the tech industry’s continued insistence on openly describing its precious customers – even on TV, radio and in print – with those hugely derogatory terms, ‘end-users’ and ‘consumers’.

What horrible, un-human phrases. It’s not uncommon to read press articles where someone in IT is bemoaning the lack of respect his industry has, but the solution – to ‘develop a better end-user perspective’ – merely underlines the core problem; tech can’t talk.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that aggressive language is endemic in an industry of competing voices. A curious mix of engineers and sales people, the language the industry uses sounds like it’s come from an internal brief for a new ‘graphical user interface’ (another IT industry favourite) mixed-in with dated phrases from a lazy sales pitch. From engineers and programmers we get end-users, and from the sales team, consumers. It sounds like an internal memo. So why broadcast it?

But broadcasted it certainly is. It’s not all the tech industry’s fault. ‘Consumers’ has almost replaced the word ‘people’ in the nation’s vernacular. The financial performance of supermarkets often makes headline news (it never used to) and the resulting interviews are dotted with de-humanising, even war-like business-speak; it’s all about ‘targeting’ groups of consumers, or about finding opportunities (to make money). It’s all about taking, but the tech industry should only be about about making. Besides, good business isn’t war, it’s art, and the tech industry has within it the most brilliantly creative minds on the planet.

Not that you’d know that from the way it communicates. Tech industry trade shows used to be great places to meet engineers and see what amazing innovations they’d come up with; now they’re solely a branding exercise. So-called news reports from the CES or Mobile World Congress feature radio presenters, journalists, analysts and even regular people talking like press releases. Last week I heard a professional journalist use the term consumers three times in one sentence. That’s not dumbing-down, it’s pure buzzword bingo. Business-speech impediments have spread to Westminster, too. When interviewed on TV, politicians often accidentally say consumers during TV interviews when they really mean to say (the equally derogatory) voters. That’s a bulls-eye on the bingo card.

Perhaps we’ve all been been bombarded with too many mediocre press releases from tech companies pushing products, most of which are published verbatim online for all to see under the pretence of being news. Press releases from tech companies are full of wasted superlatives, with most products referred to as ‘innovative’, ‘state-of-the-art’, ‘cutting-edge’ and, my favourite oxymoron, ‘next-generation’. However, this is merely lazy, ineffective hyperbole and industry-standard cliché. The killer punch is often delivered by the purely fictional quote supposedly from a product manager who, in trying to promote a niche product, seems very happy to use derogatory terms like consumer, end-user and stakeholder. I recently saw a press release that used the phrase “end-user entry points”, and another proclaiming “magical convenience for the consumer!” Seriously?

People care about tech and tech businesses, not because of the language it uses, but despite of it. I fear for the future of natural language processing if engineers and sales reps are allowed to continue dominating language in the tech industry. Who’s going to teach the robots to speak in natural language patterns? Tech industry engineers and IT programmers? That isn’t going to work.

Yes, it’s semantics, but what sounds better, more impactful; ‘end-user perspective’ or ‘people perspective’? Technology is about innovation, opportunity, purpose, wonder and collaboration. It’s about being creative within a community, a team or a family. It’s about human endeavour – it’s about people. It’s ONLY about people. So why not say so? That, as your manager probably says, is a no-brainer.

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