In defense of embracing labels

gencon

Confession time: I haven’t always called myself a nerd. In high school, I would’ve called myself “studious,” and then gone back to outlining my essay comparing the treatment of women by Tolkien, Hemingway and Scott. After that, I went home to play Need For Speed on the PS2. But you know, I wasn’t a nerd or anything.

Once I got to college, I got even more into video games, and even more into traditional nerdy stuff. I still tried to be conventionally cool, but I also tried learning Elvish. Weekend consisted of epic Risk games just as often as they did of parties and shopping. I didn’t constrict myself to “being” anything.

Then, I met a lovely nerd who loves me. And, my life got even nerdier. The first time I played Dungeons and Dragons is almost as fond a memory as setting up my first dorm room. I branched out from Risk and started playing Dominion and Carcassone. The Spiel des Jahres seal (which represents the German Game of the Year) started meaning something to me.

And that, dear homies, is when I started calling myself a nerd.

It was enlightening. I allowed myself some nerdy t-shirts (but only when I felt “worthy” of a fandom), and started skipping a couple classes every month to get some more video game time in with my best friend.

Today, I’m rocking a black sweater and Batman earrings. I’m going home and reading comics in my Superman pajamas. Thursdays are  Minecraft days during lunch at work. Let’s not even talk about how many video games I manage to squeeze into a week.

The main difference when you’re not afraid to label yourself is that it’s easier to find something in common with people. Sure, they might not actually be nerds, but they may have a tabletop game obsession, or go home to play an MMO. It’s a conversation easy button, which is great when you’re not particularly conversationally adept like me. I’m grateful to everyone who takes the time to talk about their own hobbies with me. Labels also give you room to grow inside a community. Maybe you’re into hobby trains or tea, or makeup. If you embrace a community, you instantly get to experience your hobbies in a new light.

Obviously, we’re all more complex than our labels. But sometimes labels-as-shorthand can be incredibly helpful! Thoughts?

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How to not sound like an idiot when writing about tech

Photo by Whitney Gibbs

Moderately-known fact: The Bean in Chicago is also known as “Cloud Gate.” Get it? Clouds?

Among tech writers and editors, there’s a secret code. A handshake that lets us know who’s in-the-know, and who shouldn’t be on our field. If you know it, you’re immediately entitled to at least a modicum of respect. If you don’t, you’re going to be dismissed as a pretender and a fraud. Here’s the low-down on the code and how you can get by with writing tech–even when you may not know what you’re doing.

“The Cloud”

That’s right. The cloud. If you feel the need to capitalize it, put it in quotes or italicize it, I will make fun of you. And–I’m a nice person. Imagine what happens when your resident troll sees it. The cloud isn’t new! Everyone and their great-grandmother has heard of it! You can stop pretending like it’s some new-fangled term that isn’t acceptable enough for regular punctuation. It is. You can treat it like a regular piece of technology. If anyone questions you on its legitimacy, I promise I’ll have your back as you try to explain that it’s really real.

The cloud as the Internet

The Internet is not the cloud. Take a moment, let that sink in. Many of the websites that you visit daily (especially corporate ones) are hosted on local servers. That means the definition of “cloud” isn’t that you can access it from anywhere. The cloud specifically refers to how data is stored on non-local servers and how those servers are set up. It’s typically safe to refer to something as being “on the cloud” if it’s stored off-site, but there is a chance that it’s simply stored on a private off-site server.

Smart Phones

No. Just…no. It’s “smartphone,” and the quotes are only there to set it off. That’s it! It’s that easy! And for heaven’s sake, please, please don’t talk about how smartphones are new unless you’re referring to a specific model. Smartphones have been around since 2000, and the iPhone itself came out in 2007. That was five years ago. Let’s just all accept that they’re a part of our lives, mmkay?

IaaS, PaaS, SaaS

These are a bit different. Unlike the others, they’re most often used in the most technically correct manner possible. They’re also used excessively to pad cloud articles when the writer has nothing else to say. Padders–we see through you. We know what you’re doing, and you’re driving potential readers away. Only go into the details of the differences when it makes sense to do so in the article. This dips a bit into simply good writing ethics–don’t waste your readers’ time.

Proper grammar

To a degree, people expect IT pros to not be that great at grammar. They do expect them to have the good sense to spell check and possibly even ask someone to read it before you post it. Just run a spell check program and be sure you’ve been properly caffeinated before you start writing and you’ll be fine!

The moral

When you write about technology, you need to sound like you know what you’re talking about, but not so much that you sound like you’re just bragging for the hell of it. Take some time to learn about your subject, even if it’s not what you typically cover. A little digging can protect your reputation as a writer or as an editor.

Blog Indiana 2012–a.k.a. #BIN2012

Official logo for BlN2012

Slingshot SEO graciously paid for the entire editing (and networking) team to go to Blog Indiana 2012. The speakers were great, I really feel like I learned a lot from people like Allison Carter, Erik Deckers and Michael Reynolds. You could say they’re largely the reason I started this blog, actually.

One of the most notable aspects of Blog Indiana took place on the Internet, though. Just look up the official hashtag #BIN2012, and you can get a peek into the discussion that was happening behind the scenes between some of the most brilliant Hoosier social media marketers. There is, of course, some discussion of hipsters and muffins, too. Because really, why not?

Twitter feeds for the hashtag were shown during breaks, lunches and intermissions. Some presenters even used a more specific hashtag to create a new discussion on their own subject. Kelly Knutson, specifically, used it as a way to let people ask questions. People tweeted their questions; she answered them. There was no interrupting the flow to wait for someone to shyly raise their hand, it was all right there.

It was my first experience semi-live blogging an event, and it was really quite fun! Being a part of a larger conversation (a lively, moving one instead of a passive one), was really great. It’s the future of Powerpoints–engaging the audience and creating conversations. It says a lot about us as an audience that we’re no longer content to sit and listen to someone telling us things. We need to be interacting with others, thinking beyond and participating. It’s different than “the usual,” but I think it’s indicative of growth. We’re no longer expected to sit still and listen to teacher talk, we’re taking an active role in our educations.

So, a big thank you to Slingshot SEO for sending us, and to Blog Indiana for being so amazing!