I can talk. A lot.
I’m pretty sure there’s not one of my friends and co-workers who would dispute that assertion.
Much of my conversation in the workplace revolves around, well, work: the creation and distribution of technology that, ultimately, helps other people get more work done. How do we make feature X better? Or figure out how to explain feature Y?
Explaining what my colleagues are creating is a big part of my work. To do so, I very often have to use metaphors and other storytelling tools to make sure the explanation is clear. This is not something unique to me; many of us in IT do it all of the time, even amongst ourselves. Our language is rife with jargonism that hopefully helps to make things clear.
Thus, we have virtual machine management and cloud computing explained as "pets" and "cattle," respectively. Or, if you run towards the sci-fi, there are other metaphors.
Recently, though, it struck me that we don’t just use metaphors to explain what we do. What IT does in many respects is storytelling. We take mathematical concepts and mold them into imagery and tools with which we might be more familiar. So we have the antiquated concept of accounting ledgers shaping the metaphor of the spreadsheet with its cells, worksheets, and workbooks. It’s a computer. It doesn’t need to imitate paper with its limitations. But we need that limitation. We have to see the numbers in such a way that people can understand them and work with them.
This is a metaphor, a story… and we see it all across our technology. Why else would we use terms like "desktop," "window," and "menu"? This is a level of creativity that I think often gets lost in technology. Too often, technologists are labels as being too literal, and not creative. But in reality, people who shape, build, and run technology are very likely just as creative as an artist or writer. The medium is vastly different, but the result is very much the same.
So, at SouthEast LinuxFest this weekend, I will be telling a story. A story about storytellers and IT and the way we tell a story that starts not like ancient fairy tales, but perhaps with code like
10 PRINT "ONCE UPON A TIME"