Recently The New York Times reported on the brouhaha over the discovery of the AACS encryption key code with the following comment:
"An online uproar came in response to a series of cease-and-desist letters from lawyers for a group of companies that use the copy protection system, demanding that the code be removed from several Web sites.
Rather than wiping out the code — a string of 32 digits and letters in a specialized counting system — the legal notices sparked its proliferation on Web sites, in chat rooms, inside cleverly doctored digital photographs and on user-submitted news sites. ..."
Now, can someone explain to me exactly why The Times uses the phrase "specialized counting system"?
The code was in hexadecimal, so why not just say "hexadecimal"? Are readers idiots?
Will they be stunned by the term and throw out the paper? "I can't read this anymore. It's too complicated!!"
To worsen matters, by not using the specific term hexadecimal, the article invites befuddlement for many.
Was it hex or octal? Could it be Klingon? What are they talking about?
Even if someone doesn't know the term "hexadecimal," there's always a dictionary. After all, the article appeared in a section of the paper called "Technology," so it's safe to assume its readers have half a brain.
Then again, sometimes you wonder exactly what newspaper editors today think of their audience. My sense is that they see them as morons.
This dumbing-down for a public perceived to be in the Dark Ages is nothing new. I just thought it would have faded after over 30 years of personal-computing evolution.
Most people have computers and know that the computer has memory and a hard disk, though most do not know how these devices actually work.
Ever since the personal computer revolution began in 1975, American newspapers and, to a lesser degree, magazines have been reluctant to embrace computer technology and its terminology.
Anyone who has worked at a newspaper knows that many old-time newsmen continued to use typewriters and eschew e-mail and computers altogether. I'm certain that these people are still working today.
I often wonder whether this head-in-the-sand attitude about computers and technology is the reason newspapers are in decline. The world is passing them by.
If their goal is to keep the populace dumbed down, then they are doing right by treating the readers like idiots.
Having written for many newspapers — The Times included — I cannot tell you how often editors have balked at using the term "hard disk". Forget about terms like "gate array." And only recently has "RAM been" accepted.
Memo to editors: If computer terminology does not become part of the public discourse, then people will remain dummies.
If average readers keep seeing a term or acronym such as "DRAM" each time they read about computers, then they will eventually make some effort to figure out what it means.
As a technology writer, I read all sorts of tech journals and run into lots of new terms that I need to look up.
Apparently, that grates on some newspaper editors, many of whom hate computers anyway. Apparently, it's asking too much to expect a reader to use a dictionary.
So "hexadecimal" (a precise, 11-letter word) is replaced with "specialized counting system" (a vague, 25-letter, 3-word phrase).
I just wonder when exactly The Times stopped calling automobiles "horseless carriages." And when did it stop using "velocipede" for bicycle?
The Times story reflects a much larger issue: Exactly how much jargon should be incorporated into the general lexicon? We're not in 1850 anymore.
People quickly adopted new words such as "motel" and "laundromat." And although people now use "Google" as a verb, I can assure you that most newspaper editors would never allow it.
Granted, there's a modicum of rationale for that, but there's no rationale for eschewing hexadecimal in favor of "specialized counting system."
I don't think that typical newspapers should read like EE Times or PC Magazine, but it would be nice if they joined the 21st century. After all, we're already seven years in, and time's a-wasting.
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