How To Explain RAM to Non-Geeks

One of the responsibilities of my position is to teach classes.  In addition to the three computer orientation classes for new employees I teach each month, I also give classes on the general use of hospital computers, MS Office applications, and the use of hospital knowledge bases.

For some time now, computers have been used to support patient care, but with EMRs/EHRs and other clinical applications, computers are an integral part of patient care.  For this reason (among many others), clinicians need computer literacy.  At least once a month, someone asks me to explain what RAM is.  I don't want to just tell them it is an acronym for Random Access Memory, and I think the explainations available online are too complex for most of my students to start with.  With the goal of helping them understand the concept without overwhelming them with geekspeak, here's what I tell them:

Imagine your computer's processor as the little person inside your computer who does all the thinking.

Imagine that this little person inside your computer is so smart that he can think about multiple things at the same time.  Any time you open a new window in your computer (Microsoft Word, for example), he lays it on his desk so he can work on it. 

 So he's smart, but not infinitely smart.  He can concentrate on as many things as he can look at all at the same time.  So, say we open up a few more windows:


Okay, that's all good- he can see all six windows at once, so he's all good.  But what if we want to open up one more program or window?  It won't fit on his desk. 

What does the smart person inside your computer do?  He uses one hand to hold the seventh open window.  When it is that window's turn to be considered, he removes something else from the desk and places the seventh window on the desk. 

So now his ability to concentrate is constantly being interrupted by the need to keep swapping out items on his desk, so his thinking on ALL items slows way down.  What the smart little guy needs, clearly, is a BIGGER DESK so he can see more items all at once without having to swap any out.


So what is RAM?  RAM is the desk.  The more RAM, the more things the smart little person inside your computer can think about without slowing down.  When we doubled the size of the desk, we doubled the computer's RAM.

How do you explain RAM or any other computer concepts to people with no geek background?

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2 thoughts on “How To Explain RAM to Non-Geeks

  1. I love it! Perfect description. Explaining computer concepts to non-geeks is never easy…looks like you have a good handle on bridging that geek gap.

  2. Thank you so much. This is exactly the type of definition I needed. Now I know why my computer is so slow. I constantly have 4 or 5 programs running and every one I add it takes longer. Sorry for confusing the little guy in the computer. I will definately be geting him a bigger desk now. 🙂