Everybody knows (even if they don’t)

When you work in any specialized field you develop knowledge not shared by most of the population. This is true whether you are a pilot, a plumber, an accountant or a brain surgeon.

So when you explain what you are working on, there are two general ways you can do it, depending on your audience. If you are talking to people in your field, you can feel free to burrow down and use specialized shared knowledge. But if you are talking to nearly anybody else, you need to take a very different approach.

We deal with this all the time in our work in computer graphics and virtual reality. If we are talking with colleagues, we can cut to the chase and use all sorts of technical terms. There is a huge based of shared knowledge that lets us do this.

But trying to explain what we are doing to anybody else is a very different proposition. We can’t assume any sort of specialized knowledge, so we often need to start out by using broad stroke and analogies.

Even worse, we sometimes need to fight against misinformation in the popular culture. There is a lot of shorthand out there which is at best confusing, and at worst downright wrong.

The phrase “everyone knows” is often the enemy of real knowledge. Sometimes I find that if I talk about something we are developing in VR to a person not in the field, they will try to correct me (wrongly) because of something they read in a magazine or saw on a TV show.

I’m still not sure what is the best response when someone does that. But I suppose, on balance, it’s good that they are interested.

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