Technocrats and Technobabble

Dear Anthropophaginians,

One of the big challenges I’ve been dealing with amidst the launch of The Dispatch is an ingrained distrust of Internet jargon and the people who try to monetize it. A million years ago, when I was starting National Review Online, it was like the Wild West for Internet consultants of every stripe. They were like spammer phone calls made flesh. I developed a powerful animosity toward anyone who couldn’t explain what they wanted to do in language I could understand. If I asked a perfectly reasonable question and got carpet-bombed with indecipherable jargon in response, I assumed I was being conned or, perhaps, that the salesman had conned himself. “Oh, you don’t understand? You can monetize the pings to the framfra by streamlining backward overflow and product intergortion—excuse me—integration.”

I understand that the gearheads in the backroom use a lot of jargon. But that’s true for almost every product under the sun—or under soul-sucking, vitamin-D depleting, fluorescent lamps in some windowless lab somewhere. Chefs, surgeons, shoemakers, even journalists have their own lingo. But it’s rare that the sales staff use that stuff with laymen—if they’re good at their jobs. I found that in those Wild West days, a lot of folks thought they could exploit the relative ignorance of the customer and bluff their way through conversations.

It later dawned on me that at least some of them were actually trying to sell the illusion of competence itself. That’s what a lot of business executives do, after all. They bring in consultants like McKinsey, not so much to get the best advice, but to be able to tell their board or their stockholders that they went with the best advice. That way, when the ABC News reporting standards hit the fan, they don’t deserve to be blamed. “Hey, it’s not my fault! We were just going with the smartest advice we could find!”

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