Communication Breakdown

You ever have one of those days?

In college, my speech professor was fond of saying “communicating with each other is one of the most error-prone activities people can engage in.”

To illustrate, I’ve reproduced a short conversation I had several years ago with a college student friend of mine.  She was lamenting the fact that she had to “write a program” for one of her classes.  This struck me as somewhat odd. She was a humanities type of college student, pursuing a customized major centered around philosophy and far eastern studies.  I couldn’t picture her taking any kind of computer programming class.  Nevertheless, being the helpful computer nerd that I am, I inquired as to the nature of the program so I could offer some constructive advice.  The conversation went something like this:

Friend: I have to write a program.
Me: Really? What language?

[She looks at me somewhat quizzically.]

Friend: English.

[I’m thinking: “Uh oh. This isn’t going to be easy. I’d better try a different approach.”]

Me: Umm… OK. What data does the program have to keep track of?

[The quizzical look continues.]

Friend: The people. You know, the characters and so forth.

[Now I’m feeling a little progress has been made.]

Me: OK. Where will that data be stored? On disk?

[She’s still looking at me quizzically.]

Friend: Well, yeah, I guess. But of course I’ll have to print it out.

[More progress! I quickly deduce the program has to produce a printed report. Time to find out if she’ll be using a report writer or hand coding the report.]

Me: Will you be using a report writer?

[The quizzical look is disappearing. It’s being replaced by something else…]

Friend: No, I’ll type it myself.

[<sigh> Working with novice programmers can be a real exercise in patience.]

Me: No. I mean how will the program produce the report?

[The quizzical look is gone. Now she’s looking at me as if I might be – as the English so quaintly put it – barking mad.]

Friend: What in the heck are you talking about? I just have to write a program! I don’t have to hand in a separate report!

[OK, that didn’t work. Maybe if I know what class she has to write the program for…]

Me: Uh… OK. What class is this for?

[She responds as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.]

Friend: Theater.

[<insert sound of screeching tires here>]

Me: Theater?!?

[She continues looking at me as if my sanity is in question.]

Friend: Yeah, theater. We’re putting on a play. I have to write a program to hand to the audience members that shows the characters in the play, the producer, things like that. What did you think I meant?

[Reality comes crashing back in. Quick! I have to say something witty so I don’t look like a complete moron!]

Me: Oh… I… uhhhh… I thought you were talking about something else. Never mind.

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