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"Uh, is that the thing in my phone"?

Posted by robogeek on August 28, 2006 at 2:23 PM PDT

The other night I was in the grocery store, wearing one of my jackets that sports the Java-coffee-cup logo. The grocery bagger, all of 16 years old, suddenly looked at my jacket and started stammering a question along the lines "is that the thing in my phone"? Took me a minute to connect what he was asking, and then I said "yes" and explained Java is a programming language and one place it appears is in cell phones. You'd think a teenager in Palo Alto would know a little more about technology than that.

The other time this happened I was on caltrain riding home from this years Java ONE, and the guy sitting across from me recognized the logo and started asking about its meaning. He'd seen the logo in his cell phone and thought someone was trying to sell a brand of coffee, and was confused why they would go to that length to sell him coffee through his cell phone. This guy explained he works in car sales and computers are a huge mystery to him.

This gives an interesting perspective to knowledge about Java. That people kinda know about the logo but don't really know what it means.

A few years ago when Rich Green was the VP overseeing Java he kept telling us he wanted Java to be known like Dolby. When you see the Dolby symbol on a stereo system or on a movie, you don't necessarily know the technical guts of what that symbol means, but you know that it means something good about the audio quality. He kept telling us he wanted the Java logo to have the same meaning to the average consumer. The average consumer could connect that logo with knowing that, for example, the device can be easily customized over the network by downloading software into the device. Why does the average consumer need to know more?

If you're reading this you're probably a technologist, as am I. You know why Java is or is not important to you. You probably understand the pros and cons of it in great detail, and you can probably spec out the design of a device that uses Java to download and integrate new features on the fly.

We are a small percentage of society.

Should the grocery store clerks or car salesmen of the world have to know the technical depths we know in order to use their gadgets? No. Their gadgets should be simple to use, and their gadgets should serve them. Unfortunately so often technical gadgets seem to embrace complexity over understandability.

What we make ultimately gets used by the average person. I think it's easy to loose sight of that fact.

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