Dave Birss

Learning To Speak To The Digital Natives

30 April 2012, Dave Birss

digital languagesWhat better place to write about the importance of understanding languages than from a cafe in a departure lounge of a foreign airport?

I’m currently sitting in Sao Paolo waiting for a connecting flight to London. I don’t speak a word of Portuguese. And I was foolish enough not to bring a phrasebook.

I’m going to use this very experience to explain why at least a basic understanding of computer languages is helpful for anyone in business today.

I’m limited in what I can ask for

I read the menu in this cafe and didn’t understand what anything meant. So I selected my meal based on a few familiar words in the description and the pronounceability of the dish’s name. I would have been entirely unable to order a decaf cappuccino made with soy milk.

I’m ignorant of the possibilities

There may be something amazing that I can order here. A delicacy I won’t be able to find anywhere else. And without an understanding of the language and culture, I’ll never know. What I ordered was dictated by my ignorance.

I’m not quite sure what I’ve just ordered

I think it contains meat. But I’m not certain. And I’m clueless as to what variety of animal that meat might have come from. I’m trying not to think about that.

If there’s a problem I may not be able to deal with it

What if they give me something I didn’t order? Or it tastes awful? Or it has a hair in it? I’m not confident that I’ll be able to deal with the situation.

I’m unclear of the process

I wasn’t sure if I had to pay at the till or ask for the bill at the end. And what’s the etiquette for tipping? I don’t want to offend someone and end up with an unexpected ingredient in my dish.

I’m not sure about the price

It would be easy for them to overcharge me. I don’t understand the currency. I don’t know how much these things usually cost. I could be paying twice as much as I should – but I’d never know.

Other people are making me look bad

A French guy at the next table just ordered in fluent Portuguese. Now I feel like the idiot in the room.

I think a lot of people feel exactly the same way when they’re dealing with digital. It’s a foreign land to them and their ignorance can lead to missed opportunities, misunderstandings and mistakes.

You don’t need to be fluent in code. You don’t need to be able to handcraft a functional webpage in HTML. But – as you can see from my current experience – a little knowledge can take you a long way.

Now can someone please tell me what’s Portuguese for ‘indigestion tablet’?

Dave Birss has worked as an advertising creative for 20 years, leading the creative departments of agencies including: Ogilvy, Poke and McCann Worldgroup. He now runs Additive, a company focussed on inspiring and training the advertising industry.
Dave also leads Emarketeers’ Website Coding for Beginners course.