Ask just about anyone in the work world and they can tell you what a “clicker” is. It has become an almost universally used name for a remote device which creates interactivity between a presenter and audience or which simply advances content in a presentation. They are used in corporate training classes, in high school classrooms, for anonymous polling in small and large groups. There are many (hundreds?) of such devices available on the market at many different price points and most, like the one I own, have a built-in laser. It is the sine qua non gadget of the work world.
There’s just one problem: Clickers don’t click. At least the ones made in the last 30 years don’t. So we shouldn’t be calling them clickers.
Once upon a time when all devices were analogue and mechanical instead of digital and electronic, clickers probably “clicked.” That is, a physical sound was created when contact was made between component parts inside the device. The twenty-something crowd won’t remember, but our household light switches used to make a clicking sound when they were toggled until about 20-30 years ago. Interestingly, our TV remotes are similar technology and have some of the same functionality, but I’ve never heard anyone call them clickers.
I know what you’re thinking. “Dude–with all of the current business and workplace issues that are keeping people awake at night, this is not one of them.” And I say to that, au contraire. Precision in language is important, especially workplace language. Thankfully, many people have finally stopped referring to ATMs as “ATM machines” and PINs as “PIN numbers,” perhaps as a result of the establishment of the National Department of Redundancy Department.
So, I’m suggesting that as of January 1 we invoke a sunset clause on the use of the term “clicker” and make it a career-limiting offense to use that moniker in the workplace. Of course, what you choose to do at home is your business, but at work we will have advanced the cause of technological etymology. That said, we need a term to replace the misguided “clicker,” so I invite interested readers to suggest a new name that can be used. I believe “thingamajig” and “whatchamacallit” are already overused and are not as exact as they need to be for this important workplace device. Perhaps “remote” is appropriate, but then we’d need to guard against remotes’ amazing natural tendency to seek out and get lost in couches when they are used by men. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, we don’t quite know why it happens, but it always does.
So, name that device. Post it in the comments below or send it to my e-mail address below. Once we have a solution in hand, the next target will be the term “cloud” computing, because, psst…there are no clouds, just enormous electricity sucking, heat-generating servers sitting in buildings in industrial parks. Not quite as ethereally romantic as “clouds,” I know…
Mike Hoban is a management consultant in his day job and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org