Thursday, November 17, 2011

You Must Remember This…

Is remember a synonym of persist, store, or write down?  To some programmers it is, but to civilians it is emphatically not.  In fact, to civilians, storing data is what you do instead of remembering it: (“I didn’t remember your phone number, but I did jot it down.”)

The distinction between remembering stuff and writing it down was recognized in antiquity.  Of writing, Plato said:

“for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.”  -Plato, Phaedrus, available here.

Programmers would do well to remember this point, or, short of that, write it down.  It is a particular instance of the general phenomenon I described in a blog entry earlier this year (When Specialist Appropriate Words).

I have witnessed costly miscommunication between IT personnel and their clients because the former insisted on interpreting the word remember as a requirement to store data on disk—a requirement the users did not actually have.

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