Friday, July 22, 2011

Language Lag

While reading NYT's How to Train a Teacher, I noticed that the fifth slide shows a digital video recorder (Flip Mino) and the caption says the class is being videotaped. Now, that kind of camera uses either an SD card or internal flash memory, so there is no tape involved - but "videotaped" is how the process of recording is described.

This reminded me of how - fifteen years or so ago, when I was a freelance video shooter (using tape, yes) - the clients and even some people in the business would say what we did was "filming." You couldn't call it "recording" because then there would be a question as to whether we were recording audio only, and "filming" was easier to say than "videotaping" -- less than half the syllables. I think "film" sounded more professional and more high-class, too. People knew what you meant, even if the terms were not technically correct.

But now we say "videotape." Most people these days have little familiarity with film of any kind, so they say "videotape" instead of "video recording." It doesn't sound more professional or high-class &emdash; fewer syllables seems to be the goal. But videotape is hardly common, either. It's maybe only a little more common in everyday life than movie film was way back in the 90s. But everybody knows what videotape is (just like everybody then and now knows what a home movie is, even if they've never seen a Super 8 camera).

Maybe it's the same kind of safety-thinking that leads many of us to wait a while before getting a new version of Windows or Photoshop or whatever you happen to use daily. In the case of technology, you want to make sure it's going to work reliably, even if it means you'll stick with something that is arguably outdated; and in the case of language describing a technologically-driven process, you want to be sure your meaning is reliably understood, even if the words describing the process are no longer accurate.

The end goal is what's important - just as your computer needs to work without crashing, the concept of the act of recording video needs to be conveyed. Being easily understood is the point -- and that's a usability issue.

So... in fifteen years, when our videos all go straight to the cloud, will we be saying "I'll card your class today" or "I'm going to flash you when you give your presentation?"

That's going to be interesting.