Of course, I don't mean that literally. But there are so many stupid panic headlines out there about how "Google is making us stupid" and "the Internet causes malady X" that basically you wouldn't be here reading this right now if I hadn't pandered to the lowest possible sensationalism.
Anyway, it could be that the Internet fosters a tendency in people to blur reality with fantasy.
But the true message of this post is: "The Matrix was not real; it was a movie."
Oh come on, Pete, you really think you have to tell people this?
People who actually, literally think The Matrix is real:
There's piles of this stuff. This isn't a joke. This isn't a vast surrealist prank. This isn't even a fringe movement. This is Oxford "professor" Nick Bostrum we're talking about here; he's won prizes for his philosophy pile-of-horse-shit and everything. It may seem far-fetched to think that this could one day turn into an established religion, but how far-fetched are Xenu and the volcano-demons? Proponents cite philosophers going back to Plato himself and religions such as Buddhism. In fact, this is nothing more than a modern version of Solipsism, another ridiculous philosophy taken seriously.
And that is one problem with the Internet: It encourages solipsism.
It's just too easy for someone with a loose grasp on reality already to view the whole world through a filter of the Internet. If we're all just words and images on a screen to these people, and we all "go away" when they close their web browser, then it encourages the same kind of schizophrenic reasoning that would lead one to think that the voices in one's head are real, detached entities or that the TV set is talking directly out of the screen to them.
There's really nothing special about the Internet; it is just one more form of media. But there is one key difference: The Internet provides validation for everyone, no matter how loony their idea is. You may not find a book or TV show that caters to your brand of crazy delusion, and if you do, it's a one-way communication. The interactive nature of the Internet allows any two or more people to formulate their own shared delusion and then validate each other repeatedly.
Thus, the Internet spreads crazy as easily as it spreads fact. And counter to the arguments out there as to whether the Internet is making us all smarter / dumber, the Internet is actually just a magnifying glass applied to the sum total of human intellect. If that intellect is rotten, then the Internet gives you back rottenness a thousand-fold.
"Periods of extended isolation may predispose people to this condition. In particular, the syndrome has been identified as a potential concern for individuals living in space for extended periods of time.
Individuals experiencing solipsism syndrome feel that the world is not 'real' in the sense of being external to their own minds. The syndrome is characterized by feelings of loneliness, detachment and indifference to the outside world."
An astronaut is only isolated for several months, in a space capsule or station. They have contact with Earth only through transmitted media. If an astronaut can "go solipsist" after just this brief period of time, what of the thousands of people living their lives with the Internet for their only window on the world, without face-to-face human contact? As the meme goes, "forever alone"
Well, no need to panic, right? What harm can a few nuts do?
They can steer the debate of computer science.
You see, before you have a Matrix, you have to have a sentient computer. So we're seeing a revitalizing of the superstition that actual AI can be real. Here we have our annual college grad crop coming out of school clutching their minty fresh comp sci degrees, and they're asserting with dead positive certainty that real AI is just around the corner any day now. No, not just a convincing simulation. A real, sentient, feeling, loving, hating, alive AI. An AI that will have its own will, be a superior intellect to our own, need to be held in check by the three laws of robotics, and might blow up in a temper tantrum and imprison humanity in the world of Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream. C-3PO and HAL 9000 and all.
Part of this derives from a mechanistic view of humanity. If you accept that human's brains are nothing but biological circuitry, then it becomes a simple matter of hooking up logic gates in a perfect replica of a brain and turning it on and saying "hello".
Part of this is just Apple Siri hype. Posted by the hive of collective pig-ignorance that is Wired magazine, may it burn to the ground. Another part is interviews in fantard gaming magazines like this doofus who thinks that programming bots in Quake qualifies him to boldly predict that we'll have "advanced R2D2 and C3P0 type of AI in our lifetime" "Almost surely... and better." Ah, yeah, Quake's a nice game and all that... but way to make an ass of yourself.
I needn't point out the various factions that believe - or did believe - that strong AI is possible. That's old hat. You've been hearing it for years.
Here's why "strong AI" is, and always shall be, bogus: You can never program a computer to have free will. Computers are just a pile of sand with electricity running through them, a series of interconnected logic gates through which electronic pulses flow like water. We can't get these things to pick an actual random number; they have to rely on some external source, such as the decimal value of a running clock or the current state of RAM, to get any entropy at all. As long as computers go on being silicon pipes with currents of electricity running through them, we can't even appropriate a simulated AI without pulling cunning tricks.
It's the same problem as inventing a faucet that would "decide" when to turn itself on and off.
It isn't a matter of what clever programming language we invent, or how big we make the computer, or how much of a warm tone we give Apple's Siri voice synthesizer. It's never going to say "I love you" and really mean it. No inanimate object, to this date, has ever been shown to have free will.
So the Matrixists and strong-AI-believers go "Aha! We don't have free will either!"
Strong AI can't have free will? Fine then, neither do we! Because we're in a simulated reality! Wah ha ha ha!
This is also a very old idea, that of determinism, and what I was pointing to earlier as "a mechanistic view of humanity". The fact that everything, all the way down to bacteria, shows some concept of free will, seems to escape this school of pseudo-science. In fact, it could be argued that if we had no free will, we'd never be able to come up with ideas like "determinism"!
These two ideas ("We're living in the Matrix" and "We're really just meat machines with the illusion of free will.") form a circle of poisonous delusion that validate each the other without having recourse to a single, provable fact outside their own loop.
Therefore, it is a classic case of Sagan's Invisible Dragon. If one postulates that a magic dragon exists which you cannot prove or disprove by an increasingly ridiculous happenstance of immunity to experimental methods of discovery, then the lack of ability to disprove it does not validate its existence. Similarly, we can't disprove that we live in The Matrix because any experiment we conducted would have to be conducted within The Matrix. And we can't prove that we have free will because any result would just prove that we delude ourselves into believing we have free will.
We can't prove that we're not all dreaming in a coma, either. But I have news for you:
WE AREN'T ALL DREAMING IN A COMA ANYWAY.
This message brought to you by The One. Please stop eating pills, no matter what color they are.
In recent years, the line between new media and old media has drawn itself more sharply into the standard of evaluating literacy. We are now meeting our first generation of people whom are very literate, very intellectual, and very well-read - but whom just don't happen to read books.
Ebooks, perhaps. Piles and piles of websites, for sure. But paper dead-tree books? No.
Now, I'm a book-lover in no small terms. Got shelves of 'em, couldn't imagine a world without books. And yet I can't really fault people of the younger generation for thinking that there's no advantage that books have over electronic text. I was tempted to think this myself for a long time. Upon first encounter, the Internet to me seemed to be nothing but the world's biggest, greatest library.
Recently I've seen an attitude cropping up that people like me who cling to books are old-fashioned, dowdy, dinosaurs belonging to a bygone age. And furthermore, I see people disparaging fiction books in particular. I can see the point, to a degree. I, too, went through a phase like that. And then I gained some more insight and experience - and I started collecting books again. And reading fiction again.
There's the plain old practical considerations: Books never run out of batteries, never crash, never take time to load, are more portable, are easier on the eyes, and so on. Books are permanent, barring a fire, but websites die off all the time, rendering your electronic bookmark a dead link.
But I'm not even talking about that. That's a much more prominent reason why books are here to stay.
As the years have worn on, I've discovered that the Internet is largely auto-cannibalistic. It eats its own tail. The same information goes around and around, more of it getting out than getting in. Furthermore, the same old lies keep circulating as long as the truth. When you look something up on Wikipedia, most of it references a web page, which references another web page, and so on and so forth until you get back to some GeoCities page posted in 1995 where the original fact was written... by some 8th-grader who may or may not have carefully read the book he pulled the original fact from.
My work of freelance writing for websites requires me to do piles of research. Two of the sites I write for, Lyric Interpretations and Songfacts, are about music; and believe me, rock 'n' roll history is one daunting challenge to research accurately. Obscure bands are nil on the Internet. Oldies' bands, going back beyond the '60s, nil. Anything newer than the turn of the century is also surprisingly nil, except for a handful of pop stars lucky enough to be born under the sign of Disney or Nickelodeon.
In music writing, I'm constantly hunting for the elusive answers to questions like "Yes, Lou Reed sang about heroin a lot, but is there documented evidence that he actually did any?" and "Did the person who wrote 'Today I Met the Boy I'm Gonna Marry' disappear into the Twilight Zone or what?" and "What the hell are Ronny James Dio's lyrics to 'Children Of The Sea' supposed to be about, anyway?" I've often wished I could just take a Ouija board and summon the ghost of a long-dead rock star and ask them directly. You see, the Internet collectively doesn't give a damn about a verifiable fact, only what makes a good story. Google something about music artists, and you'll be slammed with walls of opinion, speculation, urban legends, rants, trolls, myths, and fluff. Here's your pitchfork - dig right in!
Or I can turn to a book, with a good index in the back, and have the answer in two minutes. As long as it's the right book. Finding the right book to be worth keeping, ah, that's the challenge. But more and more, I'm seeing that as vast and comprehensive as the Internet is, it will never match the completeness of all the printed books in the world. Even if it did, even Google couldn't index it efficiently enough. And they're the best at what they do!
For instance, I have a copy of the complete works of William Shakespeare. I confess, I've never read it straight through and never will. I have it for reference; Shakespeare is so influential that whenever some movie, song, or video game refers to his work, I need it so I can flip to that play or sonnet and have it straight out. It's earned back the $8.50 I paid for it at a used book store. Ditto the King James Bible, which is the most outrageously misquoted work in history, hands down.
So that's some of what you're missing out on if you rely on the Internet exclusively for your non-fiction reading.
Here's the things that you're missing out on if you also don't read fiction:
Fiction can illuminate truths that fact cannot. You can study a dry old textbook and learn about Alaska... but also you can read James A. Michener's novel Alaska and gain a much deeper understanding of the driving forces in the area (along with reading for two chapters about one damn fish). Orwell's 1984, I could argue, teaches enough about politics to fill ten university political science courses. Larry Niven's Known Space series will dazzle you with the possible universe we could find out there when we do colonize space. And what history course could express the anxiety humans felt about technology at the dawn of the industrial age better than Mary Shelly's Frankenstein? Come to that, even religions use fiction to teach a point. Buddha had his koans, Jesus had his parables, Rabbis have their apocrypha. Agree or disagree with the teachings themselves, the fact remains that a fictional tale can wrap up a lesson in a way that reality, in all its messy complexity, cannot.
And that, kids, is why you still gotta read. Back to work, now!
So, what's the difference between this and Software Freedom Day (traditionally held the third Saturday in September, sometimes colliding with "Talk Like A Native Of West Country England Day")?
Well, see, the world of free (as in freedom) artists doesn't always fit well into the world of free (as in freedom) software. There are many Free Culture advocates who don't necessarily fit under the Libre Software tent, but there's been a lot of Free Culture members showing up on Software Freedom Day. So now they get their own separate day.
Nobody will boo you if you attend both, though.
I'll quote this little press release that showed up in the hopper:
"What we have envisioned is a day where all the Free Culture artists
around the world could walk in the street and play, act or showcase
their work and explain to people what Free Culture is and why they have
chosen to contribute to the movement. Of course there could also be some
amount of discussions and debates, but we should definitely stay away
from long presentations and make it a real festival where the general
public would come and simply enjoy the show while learning about those
This sounds like more fun than a box of kittens, and I'd love to see this take off. So I'm doing my little duty by passing it along.
Most interesting would be the inclusion of "outsider" art, folk art, indie music, performance artists, and all those other fringe avant-garde makers and shakers. If this becomes their chief venue - think of an open-air round-the-world Burning Man without the hassle - wouldn't that be cool?
Hogwash. Encyclopedias simply wrote themselves out of style, that's all. The whole Internet, even in 1995, was better than any encyclopedia ever written already.
The best print encyclopedia I have ever used suffered from numerous flaws:
Outdated by the time the ink's dry. Especially science articles when new research overturns old results, and geography articles when some pokey Scrabble-winner country has a military coup and redraws its borders.
Incomplete entries. The fattest set I've ever owned never had enough entries to satisfy every query.
Skimpy entries. What entries were there might be only a couple of paragraphs when I needed a whole essay.
Biased... Yes, worse than the Internet!
To expand on that last point: I am very sorry that one encyclopedia set I had got destroyed before I got a chance to scan in some pages and post it on the Internet. It was the 1942 print of the World Book Encyclopedia, and it was hilarious. I'd picked it up at a yard sale for $5 for the history value. Propaganda so thick you could float a battleship in it. The whole thing sounded like it was written by General Turgidson from Dr. Strangelove. Right-wing, nationalist, pro-Christian, pro-right-wing, pro-conservative, and more. I understand that it was WWII and the Cold War was right around the corner, but even taking that into consideration, it was the most xenophobic reading I'd ever read.
Oh, the fun I could be having with scanned pages of that thing! You'll have to take my word for it, unless someone else has that same print out there...
This is the kind of thing that makes me snicker when I hear people (such as teachers at my kids' school. Today.) say you shouldn't use Wikipedia because "just anybody can write it". What do these people think book publishing is like? Do they think there's a white-robed archangel with a flaming sword standing guard at the entrance to the holy tabernacle where the august pages are composed by muses and cherubs? I got news for these people - anyone can write a book, or a magazine, or a newspaper, too.
Or blog, or Wikipedia article. Never put blind trust in anything you read anywhere, in any media form, not even from me. Lies and misinformation rain from the sky, but you have to encircle the globe in a bloody quest for a crumb of truth.
I know I've blathered about rot13 before - the "weak encryption" where you reverse two halves of the alphabet to make an obscured "code" word. But have you ever tried to Google for a rot13-encoded word? Take 'Linux' for instance...
Wait, here's a rot13 script:
if [ "$1" ]; then
echo "$1" | tr 'a-zA-Z' 'n-za-mN-ZA-M'
cat "$@" | tr 'a-zA-Z' 'n-za-mN-ZA-M'
This'll handle anything. Feed it a cat'd file, STDIN, a pipe from another command, an argument, any old thing.
Well, see, in the early days, web users had a custom of using rot13 to head off any searches that could lead to an unfavorable result. In this case, many people wanted to talk about Linux without having the forum drown in help requests - there's separate help forums for that. Other cases for "yvahk" are just because people would encode whole fortune files and store them plaintext, and 'Linux' tends to come up a lot in fortune cookie files.
But you can try this with any potentially inflammatory topic. For instance, here's a post where users have a guarded conversation about "fpvragbybtl". Hmm, this conversation makes a lot more sense when you decode it!
Speaking of cults, I've found 28 results for "Nla Enaq" (in quotation marks only), who certainly has a cult just as kooky and combative as the other. And 113 hits for "Eba Cnhy" (Even one with his picture - duh)! Given his followers' tendency to try to win presidential elections / utopias solely through online heckling, that makes piles of sense.
If you were ready to flame back about "oh, you arrogant Yvahk elitists, how typical of you!" back there at that Yvahk example, here's "cubgbfubc" at 1770 hits, just to show that the n00b side of the force is even greater in proprietary software's universe. Unfortunately, Gimp users have an even greater cause to shake off the trolls (who Google every Gimp forum on Earth just to troll it), but "tvzc" is apparently a file extension for something. Just Gimp's luck! (Seriously, Gimp is the unluckiest software application in history.)
Even within Linux, "Hohagh" gets 3700 results, but there's some weird stuff mixed in. Its a family name, apparently. However, there are some verified Ubuntu instances there.
Go on, play with it yourselves, share what you dig up in the comments. You just might find 187 people who'd like to sell you some "znevwhnan"!
It's occurred to me the other day that I'm growing increasingly burned-out on the Internet, despite the fact that I make my living on it. But I couldn't quite put my finger on why. And then it hit me:
The Internet used to be fun!!!
Where did fun go? It has been drowned in a sea of online activism. I can't just go on the Internet and enjoy myself anymore. I can't even do serious research anymore. When I log on, I am now instantly drafted as a member of everybody's personal army.
"Protest this! Donate to that! Write your congressman! Think this way, not that way! Change your mind! You must read this now! Join this cause! Fight, fight, fight! Sign this petition! Impeach that guy! Support this cause! Protest something else! Crisis, drama, wear a ribbon on your Facebook! Retweet this or you're an enemy of freedom! I know last week I told you this other thing was the most important cause in the world, but this week's cause is the most important thing in the world and I really mean it!"
You know those movies about war where they get to boot camp and have a million drill sergeants screaming in their face? That's what the Internet has become.
I'll tell you where fun went. The hippies killed it. Isn't that always the case?
Latest buzz is about ACTA. It's going to end the world. Every cause is going to end the world! Before that, SOPA and PIPA were going to end the world. Remember when the world ended because we couldn't shut down PB after the oil spill? Or how about when the world ended because we couldn't free Julian Assange and make the world safe for Wikileaks? Or when the world ended because we didn't donate trillions of dollars to kiva.org? And that time when the world ended because we didn't get the union laws settled in Wisconsin? How about when the world ends every four years because most of the candidates everybody wanted to be president didn't make it? And remember that time the world ended because we couldn't break up Scientology? And Occupy Wall Street - the universe imploded because of how important that was, didn't it? It doesn't even have to be anything important. The world ended again last year when some woman in England was caught on video being mean to a cat.
What's worse than SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA combined? If the government will end the world by shutting down a few websites, what do we have for an alternative?
The whole Internet is already shut down by the hippies.
It is not any longer useful for entertainment, for socializing, for learning, for sharing, for sight-seeing, for anything else! The Internet no longer laughs, smiles, or frowns, it only screams. It screams and screams and screams in endless rage day after day, about issue after issue after issue, a hundred thousand drill sergeants who are impotent for want of a soldier to order about.
Who needs to fight a tyranny? We have a tyranny of volunteer activists now.
Who needs to protest a nanny state? We have 100 million 4channers who know what's best for all of us anyway, whether we like it or not.
Who needs to speak out against censorship? The Internet hate-machine already does a dandy job of stamping out any dissenting opinions such as my own.
Who needs to decry the loss of our civil liberties? What about my liberty to read a straight, non-opinionated news story without it being demanded of me that I join a war for or against the subject?
Online Hacktivists say that they're fighting for our right to the free expression of ideas on the Internet... but what freedom do they allow the rest of us now? Have you ever gotten an opinion that challenges the status quo to go over on the Internet? Can you even freely ask a question without getting attacked? No, you cannot. Tyranny by mob vigilantes is a great an ill as tyranny by government rule. The tyranny of the online hivemind forbids you from ever questioning the status quo. Users will flame you, mods will bury your post and ban you, sites will not link to you, and you will be heard by no-one but a tiny niche of the open-minded.
Nobody wants to do anything for themselves; everyone wants to try to get the Internet to do it for them.
There is no place left to escape Internet vigilante activism. Every tweet on Twitter, every wall on Facebook, every video on YouTube, every photo on Tumblr, every thread on 4chan, every headline on Digg and Reddit and StumbleUpon and Slashdot, every comment on every blog, is all about armchair generals trying to mobilize their own personal army.
"pejorative term that describes "feel-good" measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction."
In other words, "Vote this up and donate as much as you can and go send this to everyone you know and phone the president and picket in front of the headquarters! While I sit here and scratch my lazy ass."
I'm not joining anybody's army. None of them are any good. I have never seen the Internet do anything good yet when it was waging war for a cause, and I never will. Instead, there are goofy costumes, hundreds of signs held up to webcams, 'money-bombs' to finance idiotic ideas, Anonymous script kiddies run their same old tired DDoS attack against the same old tired websites, some idiot orders a bunch of pizzas to somebody's house, the zealots run around putting you on their witch-hunt list for not sacrificing your life for the cause, and in the end, the cause always fails anyway.
You want some cause to be defeated fast? Put that baby on the Internet! The Internet never wins a fight - never never never never. If the Internet protested Hitler, the entire world would be in brown shirts and swastikas by the end of the week.
(And I know they'll post the denial anyway, but online hacktivists think they won SOPA. Corporations won SOPA, not hacktivists. SOPA was the first time corporations figured out how to mobilize hacktivists to fight for their cause.)
Go ahead and put me on every witch-hunt list while you're at it. I'm an enemy of all of your causes at the same time - even the ones that are opposite to each other! I don't even support causes I happen to respect when the Internet screams at me about them. I will not participate in any marathons, telethons, fundraisers, petitions, pickets, strikes, tallies, or boycotts if I hear about them on the Internet first. I quit supporting anything. If Internet vigilantes are the solution to anything, then I want my problem back.
The only cause worth fighting for on the Internet is the one against activism, and that's my personal army that I'm starting today.
Now who's with me? Who's going to vote this up and picket and protest and get all their friends involved - while I sit here and scratch my lazy ass? Because if everyone who can read this just donated one minute of their time to resisting Internet activism... then I wouldn't have to, and I'd have a better Internet that was fun again.
None of us ever get famous for what we want to be famous for...
I spend five years of my life pounding on desks until they break, trying to preach core messages and truths - they get ignored. But I post some silly little bit of frippery just to lighten the mood for a minute? That gets the world's attention, and I'll never live it down. Oy vey, ye web schlemiels, vy you are so exasperating, you drive me to Yiddish?
Over five years ago, I posted One for the ladies: How to date a geek guy? Not even in the top 90% of my most thoughtful work. Well, somehow, through extended linking and Google-bombing, I have accidentally become the Internet's expert on geek dating. That damn post gets more hits than everything else in this blog put together.
But, uh, folks? I've now been happily married for 18+ years. So I'm a little bit out of the loop on the dating thing by now, OK? I still remember something about fork etiquette at a restaurant and that you're not supposed to initiate bondage play on the first date, but otherwise, were I (Heavens forbid!!!) single at this moment, I would either have to remain a bachelor for the rest of my existence or auction myself off on eBay (winning bid $1.50? WTF?).
OK, so, finally, at goddamn last, I can tell you that I get some 50 search hits per week for "geek date ideas". Google keeps sendin' 'em and there ain't no geek date ideas here. So what'cha gonna do? You gonna post a list o' geek date ideas, so people at least have some page to land on and at least they got something for the hit, right? You see how nice I am? No wonder I've stayed married 18 years!
Number one recommendation, without a doubt. None of us ever get out to museums as often as we'd like, and then as soon as you're in the door you're all "this is nice, we should do this more often." Science museums are the best, because they're geared towards kids with lots of hands-on stuff to play with. If you both have to drag each other away from playing with the exhibits, get married immediately. At the gift shop at the end, you can buy each other Mensa-level wooden puzzles and those stinky rubber lizards. If there's no science museum, well, art ones are nice too. Most geeks at least have some appreciation of history, so a historic museum is fun too.
Or the zoo
Second to museums for high-brow amusement is the zoo. What geek doesn't like animals? Zoos make fun dates because it's something different you haven't done in a while, it's kinda science-y, you can each fawn over your favorite exotic animal (every time I have visited the zoo, all the reptiles act like they want to follow me home), and in case you have some romantic aspirations for later in the evening, the occasional humping wallaby pair will be more than happy to provide some inspiration.
Plain old day at the library
What with Kindle books and the Internet in every home, libraries are almost becoming nostalgic. But geeks, by definition, cram books, so you'll both have something to talk about. Note, I didn't say you each had to check out a stack. Just browse for fun. Find out if you read the same authors. Better yet, check out one book for each other that the other must read.
Attend a convention
Any convention centered around any interest or hobby you both share will do. It doesn't have to be a Trekcon or comic books. Coin and stamp collector's conventions are a perfectly geeky pursuit, I assure you.
Shop in the Bohemian district
Quaint little bookshops with hard-to-find titles, vintage clothing stores with outrageous outfits, thrift stores filled with goofy junk, antique stores with a basement full of fascinating treasures, music stores that cater to your bizarre tastes, and so on. Every major city has that one "village" neighborhood. And of course, lunch or dinner at that ridiculously tiny cafe where all the hipsters hang out and grumble over coffee that's strong enough to dissolve lead.
(Bad) Movie night at your place
Forget the movie theater, unless it happens to be showing a major sci-fi or superhero flick, and even then... Nope, rent a stack of flicks for home over popcorn, but it can be either time-worn geek classics that you can relive together, or really awful, obscure, off-beat genre titles you've never heard of. A Z-list horror movie that's more fun to make fun of than it is to watch works wonders here.
Hiking (picnic optional)
Got some woods and a trail? It's been noted many times that when geeks do practice athletic pursuits, it's usually non-competitive things like surfing, mountain climbing, and so on. A hike in the woods, with perhaps a cooler with a hand-packed lunch, sounds so refreshing right now, doesn't it?
Can be video games, but really, you both play video games all the time or you wouldn't be here, right? So match wits over a chess board, have a spicy game of Monopoly where the loser can do special favors to pay off their debt, or drag out the poly-hexy-dodacahera-gonal dice for an old-fashioned dungeon romp.
Hang out and work on a project together
Can be your latest, mad-science, Mentos-and-Coke-powered robot kit or an all-night web design session... that doesn't sound romantic until you consider that you can snuggle together with laptops checking modules in and out of Git. Or whatever - who says a geek project can't be needlepoint, or reupholstering an ottoman, or planting zucchini? Just remember, anybody can be pleasant on a dinner-and-a-movie date, but a couple that can get a website launched without killing each other is truly compatible.
Pull off a social engineering hack together
Oooooh! For the daring geek couple. Infiltrate a culture neither of you belong in and see if you can con the members into accepting you as native. Confuse the devil out of a random passerby by both pretending to know them from way back. Go to the local jail and visit one random prisoner, whoever's name you can guess first. Show up at a sporting event and pretend to be press, see who you can get to grant you an interview. Go door to door witnessing for Cthulhu. Pretend to be time travelers and run up to people on the street asking them what year it is. You get the idea.
"Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum. Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch.
By 16, they could have an understanding of formal logic previously covered only in university courses and be writing their own apps for smartphones."
That's... ah! Oh! Augh! Words fail me! I sink to my knees and genuflect and kowtow in veneration of Michael Gove's wisdom! We are not worthy! We are not worthy! Is Michael Gove starting his own religion? May I be his apostle? Can I be his freaking bellhop??? I will carry water, bwana - take me with you!
OK, well, there's some minor nits. True, having Microsoft input involved, even tangentially, in something called an "open source curriculum" is utter blasphemy, and MIT's Scratch reminds me of those touch-screen interfaces that lab techs use to talk to chimpanzees rather than programming.
Be those objections sustained, the mere sight of the stock photo showing students discovering a powerbox together plus the fire-and-brimstone speech of Gove gives me hope for a new world. It's almost enough to erase eight years of Bush from my memory.
And there's no reason that US schools couldn't do exactly the same.
I listen to the war stories my kids bring home, from the tiny, reluctant, Medieval amount of computer education they get. Here is what a junior-high-school computer class in Iowa (top education achievement in the country, mind you) is teaching as of last month: "OK, kids, today we're going to create an account at a web page. Open the broooowser, use the moooouuuse, click on the liiiink... We're going to open a 'Hotmail' email account..."
I am not making this up. In fact, the same class reconvened, not to use use their sparkly new Hotmail accounts, oh my my no, but to create another account at another website, because so many students were lost and confused on the previous lesson. Which is just as well, because my offspring, already well-equipped with Gmail accounts they've been using from home, tend to greet the word 'Hotmail' with general nose-holding, eye-rolling, gag-reflex-retching, etc. Then - as I say, this was last month - the school powers-that-be have since replaced computer class with more gym.
Bounce the ball.
I'm too lazy to go look up where I said it before, but I've said that schools do not teach computing. They teach typewriting, using computers. They go from touch-typing to office documents and that's the end. In a nutshell, they kept the same IBM-Selectric classes from the 1970s and just upgraded the Selectrics.
But the UK, through Gove, will lead the way to the future! Follow the man with the sword and the crown - I think he has a battle plan!
You know what? I've quit worrying about saving the world, and I can't tell you how much better I've felt ever since.
I've just been revisiting a favorite classic blog post, over at Larry Sanger's place. Sanger is one of the co-founders of Wikipedia, and is therefore in a great position to keep his finger on the pulse of Internet culture.
Of course, the part of the replies which harmonizes the most with me is #4:
"The people you’re describing are not true geeks; they are the digerati, or hipsters, or leftist academics who were already anti-intellectual and then started doing geek stuff."
Yeah, actually, they don't even do geek stuff. What has happened is that the word "geek" has been bastardized and taken over by the fools, exactly as has happened with oh-so-many of the words before it. Or as this off-topic review of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World puts it...
"People say it's become cool to be a geek. That's not true. People have just started applying the word geek to cool people. Hipsters aren't geeks and geeks aren't rock musicians and rock musicians aren't old school gamers and aging gamers don't like musicals."
The masses do not want dictionary definitions, they want to "belong" - and they will hotly claim to be every noun at the same time, even the contradictory ones, because Humpty-Dumpty's philosophy of making words mean whatever you want them to mean has replaced dictionaries.
Welcome to Professor Dumpty's University. There are no subjects, there are no lectures, there are no tests, ignorant is the new learned, and you all get an A+.
Me, I've done thought these points through years ago. Intellectuals might as well be dodo birds. The renaissance is dead in the Western world; we are the dinosaurs, we are irrelevant, our knowledge is no longer wanted, and the sooner we die out, as far as Western society is concerned, the better. There is no ecological niche left for us to evolve into.
In the original European Dark Ages, monks, under the guise of the church, preserved the light of learning through generations until the world was once again ready to read, and this is what we must do now. Forget screaming your sense against the tide of crap. Waste of time. Build a treasure chest of learning for future generations to discover and marvel over, when civilization has swung back towards enlightenment again.
This doesn't mean the hackers lost. There is no "winning" or "losing" here. You just can't speed up evolution, that's all. Humans have yet too much animal nature to civilize themselves into a learning-positive, progressive society. Just leave a monolith behind for the eventual chance that they ever will, and move on.
Aaaaaw, you scrolled all the way down here just to see this?
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