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If You Know 20 of These Tech Words, You Are Officially a Computer Genius

Ever feel like a dinosaur when young relatives, coworkers, or kids start speaking in tech terms and phrases that sound like a language from a faraway galaxy? Here's how to keep up with the "digital natives."

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Cookie vs. Cache

Have you ever been asked to clear your “cache,” with absolutely zero idea of what that means or what you’re being asked to recognize, let alone reorganize or clean? In tech terms, a “cache” is your computer’s record of the bits and pieces of each website that it anticipates will look the same the next time you visit. This storage locker of sorts is meant to speed up the process of your Internet page visits. A “cookie,” on the other hand (not the chocolate chip kind) is more like a personal log of what you did on a given website during your last visit—what you clicked on, which items you added to your wish list, the password you entered. “While that might sound a little sinister, both are really meant to make the site more convenient for you,” says Jeremy Arnold, co-founder of Launch, a social dating app for singles and matchmakers. “When a website isn’t working properly for you specifically, it’s often because of an unexpected error connected to one of those two tools—i.e., something was changed on the website, but your stored records aren’t registering the change properly.” When this happens, a tech support agent will often encourage you to ‘clear your cookies and cache,’ which wipes out those archives to solve the problem.

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Browser vs. URL

Whether you know them or not, these terms are what help you surf the web. Simply put, a browser is the application you use to access a webpage. But to get a bit more intricate, when your electronic device—computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone—connects to the Internet, it’s really just pulling files from a server somewhere that it then has to translate into content on your screen. When that data reaches your device, it’s all in code—a really long string of jumbles. To turn this into something aesthetically pleasing, that code is broken down by your browser. “The most common examples of browsers are Internet Explorer (the default on Windows PCs), Safari (for Apple Devices) and Google Chrome (an alternative browser available on both),” says Arnold. “Your choice of browser is less important than how you use it, as they all have optional tools (“plugins”) that can do certain tasks for you. The URL, or the Uniform Resource Locator, can be accessed on any browser and is essentially the web address that locates the page you’re looking for.

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Username vs. credential

Every online service, such as Facebook or your bank’s website, requires its users to confirm their identity and authorization to access their own personal account. The way this authorization most frequently occurs is by setting credentials—typically a username to identify the account (often your email address) and a password—and entering them again every time you need to reconfirm your authorization. “In order to provide additional security for accounts, many services have added two-factor authentication, which requires an additional step beyond the successful entering of the username and password to access an account,” explains Shuman Ghosemajumder, CTO of Shape Security and former click-fraud czar at Google. “That additional step is most commonly a code messaged to your mobile device, which you must enter after your username and password, to confirm that you also have physical possession of the mobile device registered to that account.”

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Bots vs. botnet

Bots are any programs that perform an automated task, but more commonly the term refers to an interactive program that carries out user requests. “Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana are two sophisticated bots that leverage voice recognition,” explains Jay Lester, principal at Essex Consulting. While it might sound similar, a botnet is a network of private computers or devices that are infected and controlled by a remote malicious user (aka a bad guy). “Botnets may be used to carry out coordinated attacks on companies, systems, and governments.”

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The cloud vs. big data

Big data refers to the massive quantity of data that’s now available to organizations and also to the new types of analysis that can now be performed. For example, a credit card company that combines its own transaction-level data with retailer loyalty data to allow it to better identify fraudulent transactions is leveraging Big Data capabilities. “While the cloud and Big Data go somewhat together in that much of the big data is stored in the cloud, the cloud refers to the use of shared, remote computing resources for processing, managing, and storing data versus the use of local computing resources,” Lester explains. For a long time, software ran on the computer on your desk, but now that Internet connections are fast, and companies like Amazon offer cheap computational power, many of the things you’re doing on a computer or phone may actually be happening in the cloud. “It’s called a cloud because you don’t necessarily know where your stuff or that data center is, or which machine your stuff is on in the data center, and you don’t care as long as it always works,” says Walter O’Brien, CEO of Scorpion Computer Services and executive producer of the hit Hacker Drama.

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Network vs. server

A computer network is defined as two or more computer systems that are linked together, but it doesn’t matter which devices you’re using or how they’re connected. A WiFi hotspot, for example, uses a wireless signal to connect mobile devices (like laptops and smartphones) that are allowed to join that network (usually because you have bought a cup of coffee at Starbucks, for example, and they gave you the WiFi password) and are within range. A server, on the other hand, is a device that performs a task for one or more clients. “A great example of this ‘client-server’ model is a Web server,” says David Mercer, founder of SME Pals, a blog dedicated to helping entrepreneurs turn business ideas into profitable startups. “It takes HTTP requests from a browser (people like you and me reading our favorite blogs), processes that request, and responds accordingly (usually with a Web page).”

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Hacking vs. phishing

While you might consider a “hack” to be a shortcut that allows you to do something faster or easier without sacrificing quality, in tech terms hacking is also used to describe attempts by others to enter your personal space, whether on a computer in your home or up in the cloud, often for their financial gain. For instance, hackers can lock you out of your computer and demand a ransom. Phishing is similar in the fact that it’s a negative concept, but it’s also very different. “Phishing is an attempt by others to gain access to your computer or personal information by impersonating someone else,” says Sam Bell, marketing CMO at Unium. “For instance, if you see an email that appears to be from someone you trust, but doesn’t seem quite right, think twice before opening an attachment or clicking on a link, as that very well could be someone ‘phishing’ for your information.” Watch out for these Internet security risks, straight from the cyberscammers themselves.

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WiFi networking vs. mesh networking

If you’re constantly having issues with your WiFi network, you’re not alone. In fact, more than 50 percent of people report having issues with their home WiFi. Today, we increasingly rely on WiFi for surfing the Web, video calls with family, listening to music, streaming movies, and all sort of other things. “This WiFi technology is what allows us to access the Internet on computers and mobile devices,” says Ghosemajumder. “It relies on a router, a small device that acts as a gateway between you and an Internet provider and is able to transmit Internet to your devices—without any wires connecting them.” Recently, you may have heard of mesh networking systems like Google WiFi, Luma, and Eero, that promise to fix your coverage. Many of these companies are using mesh networks to create a blanket of WiFi in your home, which helps improve your whole home WiFi. “When looking for new hardware products, it’s important to get an understanding of their WiFi integration and the software they use to ensure you have a seamless WiFi experience—pay attention to mesh networking as a feature,” says Bell.

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Router vs. modem

Nowadays, most homes get their Internet through a cable or telephone line. Modems—aka translation devices—take those signals and convert them into something your computer can understand. A router is a piece of hardware that sits on your side of the modem, allowing for multiple devices to send signals through the modem in an orderly way (like a traffic director). Where it can get a bit confusing is the fact that many Internet providers now carry modems that have a router built in. “As a rule, the first thing to do if you have Internet problems is power-cycle your modem (unplug the power cord for 30 seconds, then plug it back in),” Arnold says. “If that doesn’t work, do the same to your router. If you don’t end up seeing a light next to the symbol that looks like a globe, you’ll know the problem is on your Internet provider’s end.” If you have both a modem and router and aren’t sure which device is which, just remember the modem is the one that will be physically connected to the cable or phone outlet. These tricks can make your Internet go a little faster.

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Virtual reality vs. augmented reality

Known colloquially as VR and AR, we’re going to hear a lot more of these terms in the future. Since the invention of the television, we’ve been used to interacting with computers in a two-dimensional format, the same way we’re used to interacting with a TV screen. But thanks to Oculus Rift, Microsoft Hololens, and Magic Leap, everything that was once 2D is now 3D—and we can manipulate and interact with it. Virtual Reality, or VR, is one of the newer terms to become part of tech lingo, and describes the use of visual software, headgear, or goggles to create very vivid visual immersive experiences that give the illusion of being real—for instance, walking through a jungle or flying over a cityscape. Augmented Reality, or AR, refers to the real-time overlay of some of these VR techniques over real visual input—for instance the overlay of construction drawings over real visual imagery from a building.

11 / 15
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Artificial intelligence vs. machine learning

When technology is used to simulate some of the abilities that are characteristic of another creature—walking, seeing, learning, talking, hearing, painting—this is known as artificial intelligence. Essentially, AI is the process of teaching a computer to do those things as best as possible. Machine learning is an essential component of AI and is used to refer to the techniques used by the machine or computer to gain its intelligence. “This can be quite an impressive feat, but can also be as straightforward as a website learning that you like to shop for expensive shoes and then showing you more of those delicious Louboutins,” says Lester.

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Streaming vs. downloading

When you consume audio or video online, you’re actually downloading a copy to your computer—either to your hard-drive or your RAM, which is a temporary hard-drive that regularly re-writes itself. When that download is short-term (i.e, the file deletes itself immediately after you’re finished with it), that’s called “streaming.” “Somewhat confusingly, you’ll sometimes get asked to choose between streaming or downloading something,” says Arnold. “What the question really means is whether you want to keep a copy for long-term storage—perhaps for later access when you’re no longer connected to the Internet.”

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All digital devices ultimately run on a system called “binary,” which is just a really, really long series of zeroes and ones that control a complex system of really, really small electrical elements. “Because writing computer programs in binary would take too much time, tech people have simplified this system by creating programming languages that take instructions and translate them into machine code,” Arnold explains. “The people who write these instructions are called coders, programmers, or developers.” In a nutshell: Coders write code, programmers make sure different pieces of code work together, and developers worry about the big picture.

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Your Internet provider might use the term bandwidth to explain what download speeds to expect (often expressed as an amount of data per second). While any reference to it most often describes the speed-limit of a data connection, it may also refer to how much data has been passed through a connection (often in context of caps on monthly data use.) “You might hear it used by corporate managers (i.e., “I don’t have enough bandwidth to handle that project right now”), which is based on that second definition,” explains Arnold. If you have the bandwidth, check out these funny computer-themed jokes.

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Social media

Mainstream media, like newspapers and television, have been controlled centrally by large organizations and distributed to the masses for decades. But social media reversed that model. Now, the masses control what type of content they see and have personal pages, like Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook that act as their own, individual newspaper that’s filled with things they care about or their friends care about. This is known as social media—and it’s slowly but surely becoming the news source of choice for not only younger folks, but people of all generations and walks of life. Make sure you never, ever post any of these photos to social media.