Sunday, January 27, 2013

'technical' stuff

…and talking about technology and ‘technical’ people, it always gets my goat to hear people restricting those terms, out of a combination of total ignorance and foolish vanity, to engineers. A carpenter, a potter, a chef or a shawl weaver is quite as much a technical person as any engineer is – the fact that he might not have gone to engineering school, and that his work may not in the current milieu command so good an income and ‘status’ as an engineer’s has everything to do with the way society chooses to value different things, and nothing at all to do with the level and intricacy of the skill involved (I have said before that Salman Khan does nothing at all, in the eyes of any sensible man, that makes him intrinsically worth 5000 times more than a computer code writer and 50,000 times a commando guarding our borders: it merely shows that we are an uncivilized society). Indeed, in more civilized countries even drivers and domestic help command such salaries that only millionaires can afford them, leave alone low-level techies.

Also, ‘technique’ is limited to machinery only by the very stupid. As any language teacher knows, prosody is a highly technical skill. There is very sophisticated technique involved in music and dance (leaving aside the chimp varieties, that is). To grasp the technique of painting or writing might take a lifetime: as the hugely successful novelist John le Carré famously said in his seventies, ‘I think I am beginning to understand how to write’ (Matter of fact: in all my thirty odd years of teaching, I have dealt with literally thousands who were good at math and physics, and I can count on my fingers how many of them could ever write even a decent letter).

So let my readers in future use these words more circumspectly.


Sunup said...

Sir, I think our national English dailies too have contributed significantly in this indiscriminate 'techie' usage. I read the Times of India (Bangalore edition) and some common news headings are like:
"Techie dies in road accident", "Techie hangs herself" etc etc. In case of 'non-techies' it's just a plain man or woman.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Good to see someone has noticed, Sunup, thanks. Also, the word came into vogue along with IT. I don't remember, twenty odd years ago, mechanical, civil and chemical engineers ever being referred to as techies: they were called engineers.

Shilpi said...

I actually thought that "techies" meant only people working in the IT sector, and I also subscribed to a stereotype that maybe "engineers" as a rule were termed "technical" people because they didn't talk or think about anything else and didn't really think about the art and craft and quantum leaps in design when engaged in their work unlike a basket weaver.

The latest one I heard: a communications professor conveying the idea to a mechanical engineering student that communication studies now had very advanced "techniques" of making great progress in studying communication and use of language etc. etc. A new software gadget which decodes transcribed conversations and discussions and by letting the researcher know how many times a word has been used and tells the researcher the word is a "theme", and the researcher constructs "thematic frames" based on how many times the word has been used because that becomes very significant. The researcher doesn't go back to seeing how the words have been used or the context. It sounds like a story - and this is the shortened version - but I swear it's true. But this particular professor was working in "Industry", I was told, before she got her PhD and became a Professor with peer-reviewed papers...come to think of it - I don't know what "industry" implies.

Everyday I face the issue of technique when it comes to writing and I rue over my lack of technique when it comes to painting and singing and also dancing. That quote by Le Carre is delightful and yet I had always assumed that one became good in one's writing technique by one's teens and never really could get very much better.

I hadn't noticed the "techies" usage in the media at all.