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The power of analogy - or not
Just how should we frame complex situations, arguments and solutions?
Written on BA217 flying London to Washington and dispatched to silicon.com from my hotel via a low cost wi-fi service.
For almost all of my professional life I have been trying to communicate complex concepts to individuals and audiences not versed in science, mathematics, technology and engineering. The most powerful, but definitely imperfect, method is through analogy with commonly understood experiences.
So among my continual challenges is the need to convey the need for speed. What the heck does 100Kbps or 1Mbps mean and why is it of interest and even important is a typical question. This I usually demonstrate and answer in various ways including:
The time to download a medium-sized VHS quality movie:
Alternatively, the time to download an average novel of around 1MB:
@1,000Mbps takes ~ 0.001 seconds
But in my search for something more basic I came up with an alternative that I would like to try on you the readership as you represent a very wide spread of capability and understanding.
The obvious question is to ask if we want to live in a society working at a walking pace or something faster, and how that might relate to GDP. Most people seem to have figured out GDP is related to speed of movement of both atoms and bits. For the most part, all of us also contemplate the cost and potential damage to the environment.
But of course, here is where the analogy breaks down.
The number and the speed of bits is in no way related to all of our practical experiences in the world of atoms. And this turns out to be really difficult to frame in a convincing manner for lay people.
Bit rate is really negligible in environmental damage and $$$ cost, and in this respect is unique. This turns out to be the hardest aspect to communicate, and one I have been unable to find a satisfactory analogy for.
Suggestions please, on a postcard.