…or The Worst Question in the World
People are not unlike the web development software that we call “What You See Is What You Get.” In WYSWYG software, you enter your text and pictures into a dialogue box and supposedly, what the person looking at the page will see is exactly what you’ve entered. Much of the time, it works. But every now and then, you look at the page and the font you chose is different in one sentence, there are five too many spaces between two paragraphs, or punctuation from some other language sits in the middle of every other word. Some bit of phantom code has embedded itself in the back end.
And then there’s the issue of browser compatibility. You’ve created the site for Internet Explorer, but a quarter of your viewers are using Firefox or Safari or Chrome. They come to your site and the pages are 33% smaller than you meant to design them, the fonts are twice as large as you wanted, and the colors are off by two shades which makes them clash at best and unreadable at worst.
People are chock full of phantom code. Every experience they’ve ever had, whether they can remember it or not, has an impact on the way they perceive you or the things you say. We call it life history or cultural context, but it’s the same thing. We can never anticipate that code because it’s embedded in the subconscious, and we can’t just take a quick peek at the html version to figure out how to get ourselves onto the same page.
I think about this when someone talks about how they don’t understand how someone can believe X or do Y. I think about it when my usually rational children turn into mindless zombies at the question, “Who left the milk on the counter?” I think about it when my I-don’t-care-what-anyone-thinks husband asks me how dinner is two seconds after I’ve sat down with my plate and before I’ve lifted my fork.
And I think about it every time someone asks me, “How many children do you have?”
Suddenly, I’m wondering which Internet browser they use. God/the universe/the scientific elements of chaos have all programmed me to behave for Safari, but most of the U.S. population uses Internet Explorer. The hyperlinks in my brain that say “If user clicks here, jump to this page” are irreparably broken.
Do I tell them I have four children or three living children and one deceased? Do they have the life experiences that will allow them to translate the confused and heartbroken look on my face? Can they understand and accept the second response and continue the conversation, or will I just make them uncomfortable by being completely honest?
To be true to my son and to myself, I have to acknowledge that I am mother to four, not three, children. Leaving Zack out is not an option. And yet, I find myself hoping that whoever has asked is using some other browser and some other software. I wouldn’t wish compatibility on anyone.