Monthly Archives: August 2012

From Word Distinction to Thinking BIG

We all want our communications to be clear and compelling. Choosing the right words is key. That’s harder than it sounds, especially when the meanings of very important words are evolving, just like our culture and our environment.  Which proves the old adage that change is the only constant in life.

So, in the past weeks we and our experts sliced and diced the current meaning of familiar words to help all of us see the difference between them so that we can pick the right word for the right situation. We tackled the difference between clean and green, smart and intelligent, real, natural and organic, and weather and climate. All words we learned decades ago, but with new meanings in today’s marketplace.

Rotary Phone

Take intelligent and smart. In the past, our telephones weren’t smart. They didn’t fetch you movie tickets or tell you the latest news and weather reports. Earlier versions were the rotary kind. Think back to when you had to put your finger in the hole of the corresponding number and then twirl it all the way around. Nines actually took awhile. No more rotary phones or phone booths, for that matter. Now we carry our individual smart phones and they do a lot of thinking for us.

When it came to intelligence, do you remember IQ tests? Sitting in our classrooms. Filling in blanks. Trying to figure out how long it would take train heading east going 40 miles an hour, facing headwinds of 10 miles an hour…

How about the differences with clean and green.  We learned that clean’s environmental tilt began back in the 1970s when the Clean Air and Clean Water acts came to being. If you lived in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, you would have clearly understood the need for upgrades to air quality. And, Cleveland once had a river – yes, a river – catch fire.

Cuyahoga River Fire in 1952
(Credit: Ohio Historical Society)

So we learned from our many contributors how the meaning of these words is evolving and what they best describe today. We thank them for the time they shared with all of us about the nuances that change the meaning of these words.

We would like to thank:

Kristin Hansen, Sustainability Analyst at the University of California, San Diego

Christina Milesi, PhD., Research Scientist at the Ecological Forecasting Lab at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field in Silicon Valley

Cara Pike, Director of Climate Access

Daniel Tynan, Technology Writer and Contributing Editor for PC World and InfoWorld who also recently launched a new geek humor website titled eSarcasm along with partner JR Raphael.

Scott Murray, an organic farmer and president of San Diego Slow Food.

Jay Porter, owner of The Linkery, a popular farm-to-table restaurant in North Park, San Diego.

In addition to our guest interviewees, we’d like to thank Gary Bradski, Senior Scientist at Willow Garage, a robotics application incubator in Menlo Park, who also contributed to the blog.

We also would like to credit Carl Wunsch, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physical Oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Art Markman, a University of Texas at Austin psychology professor and author of the book, Smart Thinking, whom we also mentioned in our commentaries

For our next topic, we take a cue from Labor Day. In this instance that labor is reflected in the nation’s big projects. Do we, as a nation, still think big? And what’s the best way to communicate the need for large-scale projects? The Golden Gate Bridge was built during the Great Depression, after all.

Golden Gate Bridge
(Credit: Rich Niewiroski Jr)

There is much to explore on that topic and we can’t wait to share with you what we discover. We’ll return in September, eager, ready and rested from a long, holiday weekend.

Keep reading and thank you in advance for your comments. We welcome them.

Catherine Smith, President
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Word Distinction – A light-hearted/cheery change of pace

In our recent posts about word distinction, we concentrated on word pairings that are used when discussing weighty topics, such as the environment. For instance, we looked at the difference between  “weather” and “climate.”

When it came to technology, we tackled “smart” and “intelligent.”

Knowing the difference between important words is, in fact, important.

We’re seeing words like weather and climate growing in use and in importance. Words like smart and intelligent are changing meaning as fast as the speed technological innovations are coming.

But there are host of other word pairings – not quite as high-brow, mind you – that we felt would be interesting to explore as well. Because our lives are too short not to have a little fun/joy.

Fun? Joy? Oh, there is a difference between those two words, some argue. In an article in Aish.com, the world’s largest Jewish content website, the difference is put this way:

“Amazingly, there is no word for ‘fun’ found in the Torah. The Torah speaks about joy, gladness, and happiness but never fun. Fun is fleeting. The Torah speaks of the everlasting. Joy, on the other hand, transcends time.

If you seek happiness that is enduring, you need to distinguish the difference between ‘fun’ and ‘joy’. Fun is seeing a hit Broadway show, spending the day at a spa, or trying the latest hot restaurant. Joy is watching your baby take his first step, seeing your two children getting along at last, or walking your child under the chuppah.”

This blog post then? It’s fun and hopefully even adds some long-lasting satisfaction and joy.

Daily, you may come across these word distinctions. It can even be tough to leave your house/home without coming across one. Oops, there’s another one. Here’s a charming story from the Washington Post on celebrated architect Peter Eisenman, whom, unlike many architects, does not live in a house he created.

“Architects design houses,” Eisenman notes in the article. “I live in a home.”

Peter Eisenman’s Connecticut Home

But one wonders: Is the home clean or tidy? Is there a difference between those two words? You bet, some maintain. A number of people who have blogged on the subject seem to agree on this distinction: Clean means using elbow grease to get the house/home ship shape. Tidy means just picking things up and putting them in their place.

The biggest difference? What would you buy? Mr. Clean. Or Mr. Tidy. Exactly…

Credit: Procter and Gamble

There’s actually a website devoted to a number of common word distinctions called, Difference Between, which breaks down the distinctions in  categories such as “People” and “Home” and “Health.”

Some seem rather obvious: The difference between interior and exterior paint? Hmm. One goes on the inside and the other goes on the outside, perhaps? Well, actually, the article explains the different properties that make up the two kinds of paint.

Want to know the difference between a blazer and coat?

Moisturizer and cream?

It’s all there – and thousands more.

The website creators explain their mission this way:

“We know that making the right choice is the hardest task we face in our life and we will never be satisfied with what we chose, we tend to think the other one would have been better. We spend a lot of time on making decision between A and B.

And the information that guide us to make the right choice should be unbiased, easily accessible, freely available, no hidden agendas and have to be simple and self explanatory, while adequately informative. Information is everything in decision making. That’s where differencebetween.com comes in. We make your life easy by guiding you to distinguish the differences between anything and everything, so that you can make the right choices.”

Over the past month, the Collaborative Services blog did the same when it came to word distinctions that are front-and-center in marketing and communications. Through these distinctions, we highlighted some of the most important issues of the day – our environment, technology, and health – to help us with the choices we have.

We hoped you enjoyed it.

Our next post will will close out the theme and provide a few words about our next blog topic beginning right after Labor Day.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Word Distinction: “Organic” and “Natural”, Part III

Not that long ago, when you went to a restaurant, chances are you didn’t really have much of an idea of where the food came from.

It wasn’t exactly a selling point, except maybe when it came to fish.

Words such as “organic” and “natural,” which are the focus of our word distinction this week, probably weren’t on the menu. Fast food places and family dining venues pretty much offered the same fare daily. Burgers and fries for fast food joints. Pancakes or waffles in the morning and steak or fried chicken in the evening for family restaurants.

But, as of late, there’s a new movement in the restaurant scene. It’s called “farm-to-table.” Such places feature locally grown food, much of it produced organically. So your food is coming from a small farm, not a giant conglomerate that trucks it in from hundreds of miles away.

Summer crops from Suzie’s Farm, a small organic farm in San Diego

The concept isn’t easy to pull off. The restaurants are dependent on what the farms happen to be harvesting at that particular time because much of the growing is seasonal. So menus have to change constantly. You have to be nimble and experimental. And your customers have to be prepared to understand that a dish they simply adored a month ago might not be on the menu when they return.

The Linkery in North Park is a highly celebrated “farm-to-table” restaurant. San Diego Magazine named it the Best Neighborhood Restaurant for 2012.

But you won’t see the buzzwords such as “organic” and “natural” on their website. Instead, the restaurant lists its attributes as thus: “world class pastured meats • local produce from independent farms • local craft beer • local & world wines • fresh sausages made with love & righteous meat • since 2005”

Linkery Owner, Jay Porter

Owner Jay Porter points out in the interview below that “organic” food can be produced by industrial methods just as other foods are. His goal is to find farmers who use “pre-industrial” methods to produce their goods. That’s very labor intensive since the use of machines is limited.

And there’s no label for food made that way, he added. Not yet, anyway.

But when you go to his restaurant, you know exactly where the food has come from. He lists all the farms from which he gets the food for his dishes.

Here are his thoughts:

– – –

You’ve created one of the top farm-to-table restaurants in the nation. How did you come to realize that the time had come for such a concept?
It was more a matter of wanting to serve only food that I wanted to eat, and serving food to my neighbors that respects them as people who should be fed honest, well-crafted, loving food. When I got involved in the food system and found out how awful the ingredients are for the most part, it was pretty disheartening. I wanted to be proud of my work, and for our restaurant, that had to start by serving food from local farms.

Can you briefly explain what the farm-to-table concept is.
Farm-to-table means serving ingredients that never enter the mainstream food supply, they come directly from small, usually local farms without going through distributors. Done right, it forces your menu to be seasonally driven, and also means you will have the best possible ingredients to work with (which means you can make the best possible food). It also gives the restaurants a sense of place, which is very meaningful to me in a world where most restaurants are described as “concepts”, divorced from having to be in any actual specific location.

Vegetables by Season

We’re concentrating on word distinction this month, with the focus on “organic” and “natural.” I’m sure these buzz words are important to your restaurant. Do you think most of your clients know the difference, that “organic” is a label earned from the federal government for producing food free of pesticides and “natural” can be applied pretty much freely?
I really don’t know how much our clients know or care about that difference. Personally, I take the label “natural” to be pretty much a 100% guarantee that the ingredient is *not* produced in any natural manner, since that’s the only reason a producer would feel the need to put it on there! As far as organic, its meaning has been diluted a bit too. In both cases, what the marketer is trying to do is evoke a time before food was produced industrially. Most organic food is produced industrially, and that word “organic”, although it has a definition (and I certainly prefer to eat food without pesticides), is being used in a way that creates a false impression.

When we bring produce and meat into our restaurant, we are principally looking to work with farmers that use pre-industrial methods. That food will be more delicious, more nutritious, and have more soul.

There’s no label for this kind of production, so the only way you as a consumer are going to be able to know whether food you buy is raised with pre-industrial methods is to know the farm and farmers personally. Or to be able to taste the difference.

Is your staff often quizzed by customers about where the food comes from and how it’s produced?
Yes! People know that we, as a business, care a lot about where our food comes from, and about using only the best ingredients raised in the best way. So they ask. We do our best to make sure all of our team knows the answers, but our sourcing changes daily and if they don’t know something, our person might need to ask someone to find out.

Interior of The Linkery

Why did you make the choice to go mostly organic with your offerings?
You know, we don’t really evaluate ingredients on whether they are organic. We look for small farmers raising delicious food using pre-industrial techniques. This is going to create the best tasting ingredients and the food will have the best quality and best spirit. It happens that in San Diego a lot of this type of food is also organic.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that many of the food products at our grocery stores were Wonder Bread and frozen dinners and canned peaches. Were you raised on such products? If so, how did you dietary philosophies change?
Of course – I was raised in the suburbs in the 70s and 80s, that’s what we ate, like everyone else. My diet changed when I was in my early 30s and started traveling a bit, and went to countries where the food system hadn’t yet been fully industrialized.  The food tasted so much better – you could taste the ingredient quality – and I felt so much better after eating it. So I started eating independently raised food whenever I could.

Given your success in the restaurant business, you know a lot about food. But have you ever been confused by food labeling either on products sold at grocery stores on at mainstream restaurants?
You know, I don’t often buy labeled products at stores, except for very simple things like mineral water. Mostly we buy fresh ingredients with no labels. So there’s not too much to be confused about.  Even things we buy for home like olive oil, wine, soap and honey, we buy direct from producers or people who know the producers, so we know the production methods. In San Diego, you can find these small production items fairly easy, between the farmers markets, the Internet, and word-of-mouth.

As for products in restaurants, I can usually tell how the restaurant is operated just from the menu – it’s like a window into the operational side of the restaurant, if you know what to look for. That tells me what I want to know about the ingredients, rather than the words on the menu, which are of course at some places, intentionally misleading.

Pretty much any restaurant that’s using grass-fed beef is going to tell you, because there’s a big price premium and they’ll want you to understand why the steak is more expensive than you might think.  At the same time, there are also restaurants that are mislabeling corn-fed beef as grass-fed beef on their menu, either because they don’t understand the difference themselves, or their distributor is misleading them, or the restaurant is just intentionally lying. Usually I can make a pretty good guess as to whether the “grass-fed beef” is corn-fed or grass-fed by looking at other cues from the restaurant, but the only way to know for sure is to get to know the restaurant, learn what farm the meat comes from, research whether that farm really feeds its cattle grass, and so on. Most people don’t care enough to do that (and I don’t blame them) so that’s a reason there’s so much confusing and incorrect labeling.

Some cynics might say the farm-to-table trend is a fad. I’m sure you would disagree. Have we turned a corner when it comes to consumers becoming more knowledgeable about how to eat healthy or is more education needed?
I don’t think many people who switch to eating independently farmed food are likely to switch back to industrial food. The flavor and feeling you get from real ingredients are just so much better. But I think the market for farm-to-table food in San Diego is still very small, particularly in terms of people going out to eat (as opposed to the market for farmers-market/cook-at-home ingredients).

Our challenge as a business is to create experiences for our guests that make them passionate believers in the superiority of handcrafted, local food.

– – –

Thank you very much Jay. We were so busy talking about “organic” and “natural” that we didn’t mention your excellent beer selection. Indeed, the Linkery has been named “100 best places to drink beer in America” by Imbibe Magazine. Cheers!

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Word Distinction: “Organic” and “Natural”, Part II

“Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last
Just kickin’ down the cobble-stones, lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy…”
Simon and Garfunkul, The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)

Here’s a question: Are we moving too fast that the words natural, real, and organic are blurring together?

Credit: Darrow Wertz

Proponents of the Slow Food movement say we are indeed moving too fast and losing enjoyment and health in the process. Many of us gobble cheeseburgers on the fly. More than a few of us scarf down pizza and fried chicken and other fattening fare from fast food joints. We even get antsy if the wait takes more than a few minutes at a drive-through window.

The Slow Food movement is all about slowing down for both our food production and consumption. We should harvest and cook locally grown food, most of which should be produced on small farms and in an agriculturally sustainable fashion, say those who follow the Slow Food philosophy. We should take our time in preparing it and savoring it, as well. The symbol for the international Slow Food movement is a…snail.

As we continue our take on the word distinction between “organic” and “natural,” we turn to Scott Murray, the president of Slow Food San Diego who believes we need to return to our roots when it comes to how we produce our food and how we eat it.

A longtime organic farmer, he says the word distinction between “organic” and “natural” is more straightforward than it sounds. Organic is a label one earns from the federal government for producing food that meets a number of standards, which he describes in the interview below. And natural is being used as a buzz-word by marketers, he says.

The organic and Slow Food movements have much in common, though ardent Slow Food followers are wary of some of organic farming because “when practiced extensively, is similar to conventional monoculture cropping,” according to the international Slow Food website.  The organic food movement is more than a “groovy” feel-good kind of a trend. It’s becoming big business.

For folks like Scott Murray, all of this is a more than a matter of words, though. It’s a cause. Here are his thoughts about the distinctions between these words.

– – –

We see the terms, “organic” and “natural” often when going grocery shopping. Is there a difference?
The term “natural” refers to anything from Earth. It has no real distinction or meaning and is often used to “GreenWash” the ingredients in a product. Several companies, such as Kashi®, who recently switched from organic ingredients, now label their cereal as “natural,” but the products have now been found to contain genetically modified ingredients.

Organic is a term that now has a Federal USDA program and official designation. There is a label with a specific USDA Organic logo.

If a product is labeled organic it must meet specific standards, which include an annual third party inspection and organic certification managed for the USDA.

If you buy organic food, you know that it is not treated with synthetic compounds (fertilizer, pesticides, herbecides), no sewage sludge, no irradiation, and no genetically modified seeds.

There are many other rules that are a part of organic such as annual soil building activities, movement to sustainability of the farms, respect of the habitat and many other features, which are part of each farm’s Organic System Plan.

USDA Organic Logo

Why do some food manufacturers label their food as “natural?” Is that term an accurate description of what we are eating?
The labeling of food products as natural means nothing and is used by most companies as a marketing ploy to attract people to their product.

Can a food product labeled as “natural” actually be unhealthy?
Several recent situations have shown that products now labeled as “natural” contain some ingredients that many people consider unhealthy such as high fructose corn syrup, GMO corn, soy beans, and many different food additives such as dyes and preservatives.

You’ve been involved in organic farming for years. What exactly is that?
Organic farming is on the cutting edge of 27,000 years of farming practices. The organic farmer uses naturally produced compounds that have a more positive impact on the environment.

Organic farmers build their operation on an “Organic System Plan” that aims to make their farms sustainable and continually improving in soil and environmental quality.

The Rodale Research Institute has been running a side-by-side research project for over 30 years. This study shows that the organic farming methods build the soil quality, improve water retention, and improves cost effective production. Over the 30 years the organic production was lower in cost and higher or equal in productivity. The growers made more money and their environmental impact was much lower.

Amapola Ranch, a certified organic farm in Santa Barbara

Can an organic farmer label his or her products both as “organic” and “natural?”
The organic label is highly controlled and those that use it must meet the requirements, anyone can add natural to their label.

We also see the term “real” used often for food, such as “real” fruit juice. Is that an accurate description?
The term “real” is interesting for food products. What is not real?

We all know there’s an obesity problem in America. Does the use of terms such as “natural” and “real” contribute to it?
When these labels are used to induce people to buy and consume products, they more likely contribute to diet that leads to obesity.

Americans currently have a very fractured “Food Literacy” which has contributed to the rapid rise in obesity and diabetes.

We really have a great opportunity to re-educate our population to the importance of diet and it’s direct connection to a person’s health and well being.

– – –

Thank you Scott for your input. Fittingly, it is food for thought. We will continue to explore this word distinction with Jay Porter, a leader in the farm-to-table eating experience.

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Word Distinction: “Organic” and “Natural”, Part I

World War II code breakers may have something in common with today’s shoppers looking to eat healthier.

Take a stroll down a grocery aisle and be prepared to be dazed and confused. Product labels proudly announce that the goods are “all-natural” or “organic” or contain “real fruit juice.” Being a code reader would definitely help.

“All-Natural” Frito-Lays Chips

Given such proclamations, you’d think the United States had the healthiest citizenry on earth. But, more than 35 percent of Americans are obese and that rate could climb to 42 percent by 2030, according to a recent study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

So more people are looking to eat right to prevent the scales from tipping in the wrong direction. And marketers are aware of that trend, which is why there’s been a rise in the number of products proclaiming that the foods are “organic” or  “natural.”

So we’re going to take a bite out of this topic as part of this month’s theme to differentiate important words.

Our focus this week and next is a pretty important one, considering that the food we eat is critical to our mental and physical well-being. And if you don’t believe that, please rent the movie, “Super Size Me,” by documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock.

Naturally, this is a contentious issue. Some worry that these buzz words and phrases – including “no fat” and “whole grains” and “enriched” – give consumers false promises.

Those in the organic food industry have been particularly critical, noting that there are actual government guidelines that food producers have to meet to earn the label, “organic,” but not with “natural.”

Even proponents of organic foods wonder if that word – organic – is being used in the best interest of consumers. After all, you can get organic potato chips. As this article points out, your organic produce could be coming from China.

Two guest bloggers will offer their insight about this word distinction.

First up is Scott Murray, the president of San Diego Slow Food, who is also a longtime organic farmer.

The slow food movement is relatively new. It came about because of a growing concern over the proliferation of fast food offerings and large food-producing conglomerates. The movement was born in 1986 when a McDonald’s opened near Rome’s famed Spanish Steps.

Italy’s first McDonalds, located near the Spanish Steps

Slow food is about returning to our roots when it comes to food preparation. That means using locally grown food when possible. San Diego Slow Food started in 2001 to promote the concept here.

After hearing from Scott, then Jay Porter will be our featured interviewee. He’s the owner of The Linkery, a restaurant that was named one of the top 100 farm-to-table restaurants by Gourmet Magazine. Those restaurants use locally grown food and food from non-industrial farms for a unique dining experience.

If you go to such a restaurant in Boston, for instance, it will feature locally grown produce. If you go to one in Atlanta, it’s the same story. Advocates say the freshness and taste of locally grown food is second-to-none, because the food isn’t being transported long distances or being manufactured on large-scale farms.

It’s all about slowing down, smelling the roses and eating food that’s basically from our backyards.

Join us later this week to meet Scott Murray and next week to meet Jay Porter.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Word Distinction: “Smart” and “Intelligent” Part II

Today marks our final posting on the distinction between the words, “smart” and “intelligent.” It concludes with the second part of our interview with Daniel Tynan, a respected and prolific technology writer.

It’s been a fascinating topic, particularly when you consider the many innovations that marketers have labeled as either “smart” or “intelligent.”

Consider: Even the world of fashion is getting smart with solar-powered dresses right around the corner.

Abbey Liebman’s Solar Powered Dress

Even smart jeans are on the horizon.

Of course, to be really styling, you’ll need a smart watch to go along with it. That’s a reality.

Where will it end?

Even Dan wonders…

– – –

Do see a time when consumers will be buying “intelligent devices” and if so, what would they be?
I think you will have to consciously force yourself off the grid to avoid buying “intelligent” devices, and maybe go everywhere by bike, because just about everything will have intelligence built into it, from our household appliances to (yes) our toilets. The “smart phone” will cease being thought of as a phone, because making calls will be one of the least popular uses for it. Personal Communication or Personal Computing device is what they are and will be, until somebody comes up with a cooler name for them. Phones are going to replace our wallets for identification and payment purposes and our keys for entering houses or driving cars. We won’t need credit cards or insurance cards or frequent customer cards – it will all be on the phone. They will mostly serve as local authentication devices for the network, where the data lives, and be part of what defines who we are to the world outside.

There, is that Carl Sagan enough for you?

Tesco’s Virtual Supermarket in the Subway

Are marketers using these two words accurately?
Probably not.

IBM is a big user of the word, “smart.” It says, for instance, it’s building “A Smarter Planet.” It even labels this decade as the “Decade of Smart.” Is that just clever advertising or are we living in the “Decade of Smart?”
Smart is shorter and less intimidating than “intelligent.” There is a natural tendency for most Americans in particular to distrust the intelligentsia (I won’t get into the politics behind that), but everyone likes to see themselves as “smart.” Also, lots of scary science fiction about the machines becoming self-aware and deciding to rid themselves of those pesky humans. “Smart” devices sound more like Wall-E, less like The Terminator.

A Smarter Planet Billboard
(Credit: IBM)

Isn’t this kind of ironic? After all, we keep on hearing about the “Dumbing down of America”. The number of people getting college degrees is declining, for instance. What is it? Are we dumber, but the products we use smarter?
Dumb, dumber, and dumberest. Really, don’t get me started on the public education system in this country. We demand less and less of kids, and we get it. At the same time, the smartest of us are getting really really smart – so there’s an enormous and increasingly large gap between the Google geniuses and the folks stocking the shelves at Wal-Mart. But everyone has a smart phone.

Somebody (it may have been Bill Joy) once said that as technology gets more sophisticated it hides its complexity from the user. They probably said it better than that. Basically, as devices do more for us they appear to be more simple and easy to use, even if they aren’t simple at all under the hood. Steve Jobs understood that better than anybody; Microsoft may never really get it.

Are there other words on the technology horizon that we as consumers should start getting used to?
“An Internet of things.” That’s what all those connected devices are. The amount of traffic between devices communicating on our behalf without human intervention is expected to dwarf the data exchanged between living sentient beings, if it hasn’t already. I expect that phrase to leak out of geekerati use and into the mainstream in some fashion.

“Location porn.” I just made that up. But we now have the ability to locate anyone anywhere in the developed world, depending on the devices they are carrying and the networks they come in contact with. So the idea of just dialing up a location to see who’s there, or to stalk someone you barely know and find out exactly where they are in meatspace, so to speak, is a very real possibility. And of course, that also implies location exhibitionists – hence services like FourSquare.

I can get real Orwellian on you about privacy if you like  (it’s a thing I do) but that’s just what’s off the top of my head.

– – –

Thanks Dan for the lively conservation. Our blog has attracted a lot of smart and intelligent folks, but you have a way with words that we greatly admire. “Meatspace?” That’s a new one for us. Our next blog topic will be on the distinction between “organic” and “natural,” which have been becoming a growing part of our food vocabulary as people seek to eat in a more healthy fashion.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Word Distinction: “Smart” and “Intelligence” Part 1

Today we feature the first part of our interview with Daniel Tynan on the distinction between the words, “smart” and “intelligent.” As we mentioned earlier, Dan has vast experience writing about technology in ways that are not only intelligent and smart, but also funny and fun. In addition to being a contributing editor for PC World and InfoWorld, he recently launched a new geek humor website titled eSarcasm, along with partner JR Raphael.

Which leads to one aspect of “smart” and “intelligence” we haven’t yet explored: Is having a sense of humor a sign of intelligence and/or smarts? After all, some people are described as having a “having a smart sense of humor.”

Science apparently hasn’t done much to see if there’s a connection, but one researcher did a study (a serious one, mind you) and found what appeared to be a link between the two. 

Regardless, Dan’s wit allows you not only to learn about technology, but occasionally with a grin while doing so. That’s pretty rare.

We feel fortunate to have Dan’s unique insight. Here’s Part 1:

– – –

You’re a technology writer and blogger. When did you first notice smart and intelligent being used to describe technology?
Well, “intelligent machines” is a phrase that has been around really since the first days of artificial intelligence (late 1950s) if not before. I think “thinking machine” or “thinking engine” was in use even before that. “Smart” is a later addition, I think – shorthand for distinguishing phones that use connected services from those that don’t. I am no OED (Oxford English Dictionary) for geeks, but I’m guessing it came into usage shortly after Blackberries took off, late 1990s or early 2000s.

First Smart Phone: Handspring VisorPhone

Smart is a very popular word right now in the personal commuting marketplace. Take smart phones. They used to just be cell phones before that mobile phones. Now, they’re “smart phones.” Why did that word get connected to them?
See above. ‘smart’ = ‘data’. In a sense, the first smart phones were Handspring units in the mid 1990s, which used the Palm Operating System bundled with a cell phone. They didn’t connect to the Internet, but they enabled people to use their data (contacts, calendars, notes) on their phones. Now “smart phone” really implies a ubiquitous Internet connection.

So why isn’t a phone called an intelligent phone? Often, my phone seems more intelligent than me.
Me too, brother.

Personally, the distinction I make between “smart” and “intelligent” (which I am not sure anyone else shares) is this: a “smart” device enables you to use data in new and useful ways. An “intelligent” device anticipates the information or services you need by adapting to your behavior and gives it to you without your having to ask for it. That’s much closer to the AI (Artificial Intelligence) concept. We are seeing software and Web sites that adapt to user behavior on a regular basis; this will become something that is matter of fact in a few years. Our homes will adapt to whomever is in the room – detecting your identity, changing lighting or HVAC settings or music, etc, as you walk in. They’re called “smart” homes now, but I think of them as “intelligent” homes. Cars, too. We will have commercially available self driving cars by the 2020 decade, if not sooner. They will adapt to changing traffic and road conditions much more quickly and accurately than humans.

Essentially, these devices learn. That’s what distinguishes “smart” and “intelligent” in my mind.

Is “smart” used more than “intelligent” simply because it’s shorter and snappier?  Or is there a true distinction between the two words?
See above. But I’m not sure that anyone else agrees with me.

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Part II of Dan’s interview will appear later this week.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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