Why I don’t like the term ICT

ICT is a dumb piece of bureaucratic jargon that found its way into the technology mainstream.

I say dumb because it confuses matters and makes understanding unnecessarily difficult. The term is widely misused as a substitute for IT.

Information technology

IT, or information technology, is readily understood. It refers to computers, software and all the other stuff used to create and process information. This includes the communications networks used to move information from one place to another.

Information technology can be complex, but we all know what it is when we see it.

ICT (information and communications technology) fails as a useful name because it isn’t clear and unambiguous. It is irritating and unnecessarily pompous.

You could argue the word communications is redundant – after all most modern communications technologies are a sub-set of IT.

Blame public servants

It’s not surprising the term was first used by people in government. Pomposity is the public servants’ first language. But the term is creeping in elsewhere.

The Wikipedia entry for ICT gives a fairly detailed explanation of how the term is used as a synonym for IT but has a more general meaning that takes in telecommunications and other technologies.

We need a term to describe the bigger technical picture, but ICT is too much like IT and that leads to the two terms being confused.

We’ve been here before

In the late 1980s the term IT&T (information technology and telecommunications) was pushed as an alternative to IT.

At the time there was much talk about convergence between IT and telecommunications. As expected the two industries converged and IT&T fell from favour.

Not issues: problems, stuff-ups, failures

Technology products no longer stop working or fail. Instead, they have issues. This is particularly true in telecommunications.

We had problems with an Orcon site hosted. The company told me it was having “issues with a server”. The issue meant it stopped working for 24 hours and was flaky for days after.

When customers on Telecom NZ’s XT network had problems with data connections in October, the official company response said:

“Data issues affecting some XT mobile customers earlier today are now resolved. Some customers in the lower North Island and South Island using mobile broadband on the XT mobile network experienced issues from mid-morning.”

Yes, we are back to the crazy world of PR and marketing euphemisms.

Wasteline test your writing

Helen Sword’s Wasteline Test is a great online tool to improve your writing.

You cut and paste samples of your writing into a box, hit the button and the software scans your writing.

The Wasteline Test counts and highlights the weak verbs, abstract nouns, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs and ‘waste words’ in your copy. Then it provides you with an overall ranking from lean, through fit and trim all the way up to ‘heart attack’.

New Zealand academic Sword designed her test to help university students improve their writing skills. She has also written a book, The Writer’s Diet – which I’ve yet to see in any local stores, but I’ll buy a copy if I do. 

The Wasteline Test works just as well for most types of writing and includes a number of ideas I’ve written about on this site.

I’m pleased to report most of my recent stories rank at the lean end of the scale. My old school journalist style uses more be verbs than Sword likes, but not too many.

Avoid these traps for your readers

Your job as a writer is to get your message across clearly and quickly.

One way you can sabotage communication is by laying traps for readers. They stop a reader’s flow as their eye scans over text.

Punctuation – as the name suggests – stops flow. This is why I leave out optional commas.

You can also slow down a reader’s flow when you use capital letters incorrectly. For the same reason you should never write a word entirely in capitals.

Likewise I don’t use the ‘&’ symbol – instead I write ‘and’. The exception to this rule is when the ‘&’ forms part of a company’s name.

The same applies to ‘+’.

It is also better to write out percent in full than use %. Although some newspapers, including one where I work, insists on using the symbol.

Never resort to phone text-style language in anything written for a wider audience. It isn’t funny, clever or useful.

What to do when an interviewee talks like a robot

Interviews are the best way to quickly collect information for any kind of writing.

As a freelance journalist I interview people every day.

Interviews work because other people’s words are livelier and more interesting than long passages of descriptive prose.

Most interviews go well. The best interviewees know their stuff and express ideas clearly. They sound human. That is, they talk like real people using everyday language.

Some interview subjects are anything but human. They sound like automatons.

Nervous interviewees hide behind jargon and officialese because they feel safer or because they, wrongly, think it makes them sound smarter. They may not be confident using their own words.

Another reason is media training. Some interviewees learn or prepare ‘canned’ statements designed to stay “on message”. In some cases a communications professional is standing in the wings.

They sound like they are reading from a prepared document. Sometimes they are.

I’ve three techniques for helping interviewees sound human:

  1. Let them get the canned statements off their chest first. Take notes – this could be all you get. Then ask them questions which get them to say the same things again. They are more likely to speak like humans second-time around. If this doesn’t work, I’ve found even Daleks run out of resistance when you go back for a third try.
  2. Play dumb, get them to explain jargon. Some interviewers fear this because they worry it makes them look stupid. Don’t worry; you can look smart when your copy appears explaining difficult ideas in understandable English. If it really bothers you, say something like: “I understand what it means, but my readers aren’t familiar with the term”.
  3. Put them at ease. Often interview subjects are tense before the interview. Once they think they have delivered the key message in their corporate language they often relax. When this happens chat about their words, go over points casually– but keep your eyes and ears open. If you use a microphone leave it running.
    Once the show is over, interview subjects drop back into human form. I’ve had interviews where the best words came travelling down in the lift or even while unlocking my car to drive home.