Jargon as an Instrument of Power
Unfortunately, many who influence the way computers are used by others seek to mystify their operation and perpetuate the division of computer users into expert and novice. Karen D. Jobe has shown the way hacker jargon, and therefore the separation of users into expert and novice, is gendered. Robert Johnson's User-Centered Technology shows the way jargon can be used to maintain the system-centered viewpoint dominant in the design and use of computer systems. In "The Ideology of Ease" I demonstrate the way ease can increase this problematic digital divide.
           Web sites like the jargon file, maintained by Eric S. Raymond, or Everything, a collaboratively developed database which catalogs meanings and opinions, both display a double relationship to jargon. While both sites clearly intend to demystify and allow learning and empowerment, the many entries which make up the jargon file and especially Everything are also quite personal, and cross-referencing with other nodes is heavy. So while the resources can help to explain and demystify, in other ways they just become a way to track the numerous hoops one must jump through in order to get membership in a certain community or discipline.
           Certainly, the mere presence of jargon, complex terminology, or neologism doesn't indicate a desire to control the reader or maintain an expert-novice power structure. (And its absence doesn't mean a text is free from manipulative language.) However, because of the long tradition of using jargon to segregate computer users from system designers, and to discourage critique of computer software and system design, more work is needed to ensure explanation, not obfuscation, is the more frequent use.

Return to review