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[whitespace] Info Trash

A glossary for those in and out of the loop

By Annalee Newitz

FOR YOUR edification, consternation, and bathroom reading, I've compiled a list of the most egregiously overused phrases and concepts in the tech industry. Drink information--things go better with a cliché.

Bricks and Mortar: A phrase often used in the multimedia biz to designate anything that isn't virtual. "People used to build businesses out of bricks and mortar," an overexcited sales rep will say, "but now they use websites." What's weird is the idea that everyday life is actually made out of bricks and mortar--it's as if everywhere outside of cyberspace is supposed to look like a New England town full of quaint old building materials. Personally, I live in the corrugated iron and drywall world.

Skill Set: All the abilities a particular job requires or all the abilities a person possesses. "Skill set" is often used euphemistically to explain why someone hasn't gotten a job: "Her skill set didn't entirely overlap with the position of engineer." Also can be used comically: "My skill set includes UNIX administration, Perl scripting, and interior design with empty Coke cans."

Sticky: Of course you want your website to be sticky, just like the Macromedia ads say. Why? Because you want eyeballs to stick to them, to stay awhile. I understand the concept perfectly, but not the metaphor. Why combine eyeballs with the idea of stickiness? It's too Sam Raimi, as if your company's goal were to suck people's faces off instead of merely selling them something. But maybe that's the point.

IT: Like the word "cool," IT describes so much that it has become meaningless. I saw a company website the other day which actually advertised itself as dealing in "IT products," possibly the vaguest business plan in the history of creation. I'm ready for a wave of IT jokes, in which IT is said to stand for Incarcerated Testicles, Internet Torture, or Information Trash.

Robert Cringely: Robert Cringely popularized the stereotype of the valley's heroic, virginal nerd with his book Accidental Empires. The whole nerd-boy thing is prehistoric in our era of webgrrls, immigrant entrepreneurs, and shagadelic, pierced geeks who code by day and go to San Francisco sex parties at night. Let's get with the program here: The story of the late '90s isn't celibate nerds who strike it rich, but the astronomical number of geeks who blow their giant salaries on call girls.

Suck.com: Everybody knows that Wired's little e-zine Suck.com used to be the shit with its jangly prose, retro graphics, and up-to-the-nanosecond ironic commentary. But reading it today is like hearing yet another David Letterman monologue. It's comfortingly familiar but not really funny anymore. Anyone who claims Suck.com is the only online content they read needs to be taken out and re-skilled. Try these URLs instead: Slashdot, Salon, and The Onion.

e: Remember when "e" meant something that made you feel like doing the happy dance? And for those who didn't pop pills, e was a prefix for e-mail and nothing else. Now we have companies like eTrade, TrustE, and eBay; and hundreds of firms have come to specialize in e-whatever: e-commerce, e-business, e-publishing, e-schooling. Since e stands for electronic, we might as well rename everything. Could you turn on the e-lights so I can find the e-coffeemaker and get some milk out of the e-refrigerator? Every action can be an e-transaction!

The Internet Index: Why are Microsoft, Amazon.com, and Sun all listed in the same index? Because Wall Streeters can't wrap their minds around the idea that the Internet is a medium, not a type of commodity or product.

Company T-shirts: Company T-shirts are a combination of two high school impulses that never should have been combined: the urge to wear school colors patriotically and the desire to wear Marilyn Manson T-shirts that say "I am the God of fuck." Sorry, but you can't be a zippy little code monster and still wear T-shirts that advertise tech companies (especially ones where you work). The only T-shirts worth having are those that promote ephemera: companies that died, products no one remembers, and obscure conferences held in places other than Las Vegas. It pains me to say this, because I yearn tragically for an Inktomi T-shirt. But do you really want to hear the "It's not just a company, it's a wardrobe" joke one more time?

Yes, I'm sure there are a bazillion things I've left out. f

This nostalgia column originally ran in 1999 as a handy Internet primer.

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From the February 1-7, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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