Synesthesia is the ultimate mashup. It’s a neurological condition in which a person experiences the data of one sense with another – a sort of warped virtual reality.
Examples of synesthesia are:
- seeing numbers and letters as colours: for example, where most people see the following text as black: ABC 123, a synesthesic might see it as: ABC 123
- perceiving numbers, letters, days of the week and months as emotions or personalities: for example: 1 as “strong”, H as “envious”, Tuesday as “sad” and July as “jealous”
- seeing sounds: a loud noise such as dog barking or fireworks exploding might cause the person to see certain shapes or patterns
- perceiving time periods as locations in space: for example: Monday appears “further away” than Wednesday
- “tasting” certain words or letters: for example, most tastes like toast, and leg tastes like egg
Scientists aren’t fully sure what causes synthesia, but agree it’s probably some sort of neurological malfunction in which the sensory wires in the brain get crossed. It may affect as many as one in 23 people.
Blessing or Curse?
At first glance, synthesia might seem like a curse. After all, who would want the distraction of “hearing” colours or “seeing” sounds? In fact, it may be a blessing. Some synthesics are very creative and have produced unique drawings and other artwork that illustrate the remarkable way they experience the world.
Synthesia, Tech Comm Style
An effective technical communicator is partially synesthetic. We simply would not be able to do our jobs well if we perceived information the same way normal people do.
Specifically, technical communicators are hyper-sensitive to vague, missing, misspelled, confusing, incomplete and poorly organized information. We perceive it as jarring, illogical, uncomfortable and painful. We can call this condition technical communication synthesia, or TCS.
The following examples help illustrate TCS. In each one, you’ll see three statements:
- Actual text – the actual text that might appear in a document or software application
- Normal perception – how a normal (non-TCS) person perceives the text
- TCS perception – how a person with TCS perceives the text
- Actual text – The record is updated.
- Normal perception – Great! The record is updated. My work is done!
- TCS perception – The record is updated?! Who or what updated the record? The user or the computer? The objective voice is evil.
- Actual text –Welcom too the Synex Usser Giude .
- Normal perception – Hmm, something doesn’t quite smell right…
- TCS perception – The horror; the horror…
- Actual text – The Sort command sorts your data.
- Normal perception – Gee, who would have thought it did that?
- TCS perception – Circular references are evil! Change this to: Use the Sort command to arrange your data alphabetically or numerically.
- Actual text– The program will remember your settings.
- Normal perception – Awesome! I can just set it and forget it!
- TCS perception – Remember? How can program remember?! Anthromorphization is evil!
- Actual text – Error 43 – Incompatible file format.
- Normal perception – Damn! Where’s the tech support number?!
- TCS perception – Where is the problem? What is the solution? And who cares what the error number is?
- Actual text – Abort the process.
- Normal perception – Yikes! I’d better stop the process.
- TCS perception – Abort is a word more loaded than an H-bomb. Change to: Stop the process.
- Actual text – It’s important to back up your files.
- Normal perception – That’s nice to know….uh, what’s a “back-up”?
- TCS perception – What is a back up? Why is it important? How do you perform one? Which files do you back up? How often should you perform one?
- Actual text – Do you want to enter more records? [OK] [Cancel]
- Normal perception – Yes, I do, so I’d better click OK .
- TCS perception – Ouch! Why can’t developers label buttons properly?! Change the buttons to a simple [Yes] and [No].
- Actual text– Turn off your computer. Be sure you have saved your work first.
- Normal perception – OK, I’ve turned off my computer Now what? Make sure I’ve saved my work first?! Doh!
- TCS perception – Might as well say: Cut the red wire to detonate the bomb. Change to: Save your work, then turn off your computer.
- Actual text– To print a document, make sure you have opened the document you want to print, the printer is on, there is paper in the paper tray, and that the printer has enough ink, then press Print and select the correct printer, paper size, orientation, the pages you want to print and the number of copies, then click OK.
- Normal perception – You had me at “To print“. Then you lost me. I am sad.
- TCS perception – Could that sentence be any longer? Rewrite to:
- Ensure the printer is on.
- Check that there is paper in the paper tray.
- Check the ink level of the printer.
- Open the document you want to print.
- Click the Print button.
- Select the paper size and orientation.
- Select the pages you want to print and the number of copies.
- Click OK to print.
Note: TCS is incurable, thankfully.