What you talkin bout willis

What you talkin bout willis

This line was often spoken by Arnold Jackson, played by Gary Coleman, to his brother Willis (Todd Bridges) on the show Diff’rent Strokes (1978-1985).

In 1978, two brothers from Harlem were orphaned and taken in by a wealthy millionaire. No, it’s not the plot of the new Annie; it’s the concept of the TV show Diff’rent Strokes.

Those two bros were Arnold and Willis Jackson. When Arnold, played by Gary Coleman, expressed disbelief or befuddlement (or the writers just needed a laugh), Coleman would scrunch his face up and deliver his iconic catchphrase, “What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”



You’ve heard this quote any time someone wanted to know what someone else was talkin’ ’bout, whether that person be Willis, Bruce Willis, Rumer Willis…or even people not named Willis.


If you were to drop this quote at a dinner party, would you get an in-unison “awww” or would everyone roll their eyes and never invite you back? Here it is, on a scale of 1-10.

In the 1980s, network TV was awash with popular sitcoms that captured our imaginations and challenged our societal norms. Shows like The Jeffersons, Three’s Company, Archie Bunker’s Place, and Happy Days were staples for many of us. A combination of great story-telling, colorful characters, humor, and the infamous “catchphrase” was the tell-tale formula for most of these shows. One of the most famous, and most endearing of these catchphrases surfaced in the show, “Diff’rent Strokes” and belonged to the star of the show, Arnold Jackson (played by the late, great Gary Coleman). When confronted with a strange, challenging, or unexpected situation, Arnold would cock his head to the side, raise one eyebrow, and through squinted eyes, say to his older brother, “What You talkin’ bout, Willis?”

I’m sure many people remember the line Arnold (Gary Coleman) used to say on the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes whenever he couldn’t comprehend what in the world his brother was talking about.

Lately, I find myself wanting to invoke that line more and more. In my July 2003 column, I talked about new words becoming commonplace in our vocabulary. The downside of this is a propensity to use “industry speak” in daily conversation.

You know what I’m talkin’ ’bout — it’s kind of a techno double-talk when people pepper their conversation with buzzwords, jargon, and three-letter acronyms such as FYI and BTW specific to their area of expertise. That’s fine when speaking with colleagues or industry insiders, but the problem is that we often wind up using industry speak with people outside of our fields. Then it can seem like a trip to a foreign country, and you can’t speak the language. Sometimes it happens within our own companies; IT folks speaking ITanese (“Use your ISP to connect with your company’s VPN, and then you can access their intranet. In the meantime, I can upload those JPEGs to an FTP site for you.”) with audio people who, of course, only understand Audioian (“The FOH console incorporates VCA master faders. Do you know what the RT60 is for that venue?”). These are elementary examples of industry speak, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Consultants and integrators frequently have to speak with facility owners, managers, or other laypeople regarding system design or installation issues. We have to make sure we can communicate to our customers at their level of understanding, without talking down to them or being condescending. What’s the use in showing off our extensive knowledge when nobody knows what we’re talkin’ ’bout?

On another note — and with apologies to Frank Sinatra — I like Atlanta in June. How about you? InfoComm is almost upon us. Starting June 5 and running through June 11 (the exhibit floor opens on June 9), the show features a comprehensive lineup of technical training and business development opportunities.

New items for 2004 include Business Planning and Marketing for A/V Integrators June 6-7 as well as Super Tuesday, an intensive day of training that features a variety of relevant topics to choose from, such as A/V and IT Converged as well as Technology Trends.

The Streaming Media Pavilion — sponsored by Sound & Video Contractor, Video Systems, and SRO magazines — returns to the exhibit floor featuring products, services, and technologies that serve the streaming media and presentation markets. Hour-long panel discussions that will cover trends and technologies in this growing field will also be at the pavilion.

Speaking of growing fields, the premier issue of the Houses of Worship: Systems Integration Special Focus e-newsletter is out. This is a bimonthly newsletter focusing on products and systems for houses of worship. If you are not a subscriber and would like to receive the newsletter, go to www.svconline.com and click on e-Newsletters in the left-hand navigation bar. More Systems Integration Special Focus newsletters covering other markets such as business technology and retail systems will be forthcoming. Keep on the lookout for them.

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