A sufficiently outdated technology is indistinguishable from a rock.

Stupid about technology? It's not your fault!

Date/Time Permalink: 04/11/07 04:16:42 pm
Category: General

Locked Out

This is a follow-up to both "Why Linux has Zealots" and "Linux and Newbies: Some Cold Hard Reality". After the dust settled from those two pretty controversial discussions, I noticed a trend: defensiveness on the part of those who don't consider themselves as savvy about computers as the rest of us. And feeling on the defensive, many who have yet to achieve insight into what is really going on with technology dropped by to read those of us who had, dismiss us as elitists, and dive back into their hole. What a shame.

What's worse is the ones who surrender, and bash themselves for not knowing thing one about computers. What an equal shame, to see some of you being so hard on yourselves - certainly far harder than I've ever been on you. So, to encapsulate what I'm saying with those two posts: never mind what went before; going forward, we're all going to have to get much more familiar with technology, because it is the only way we, as a society, will keep control over it. This is just the pragmatic fact of the matter.

Now, this is nowhere near blaming the "clueless newbie" for their own lack of knowledge. Because who can blame the public for being uninformed about computers, when our whole society stacks the deck against learning about them?

Are computers taught in our public schools? Not even close! Maybe some token towards offering courses in word processing is made. Big deal - what's the difference between what is taught on computers in today's classroom and the typewriter courses of half a century ago? Nothing! At the very best, a student might come through 12th grade having learned to type out and save one Word document.

Sure, plenty of other subjects are taught while using a computer, but when I say teach computers in the class, I mean whip out a screwdriver and take that sucker apart and explain the damn thing! Teach at least an introduction to basic logic - once you understand logic, all programming ability comes from that. Teach some basics of how the Internet works; it's about time Internet 101 was taught as a basic life skill in high school, just like home ec. and driver's ed. Or even just once in the student's lifetime, flash one page of source code in front of their eyes: "Hey, kids! This is what a C "Hello World" program looks like! Isn't it pretty? Class dismissed!" But even that is too much to ask.

Can we learn about computers from popular media? Well, let's see: we have cable channels devoted to cooking, home decorating, fashion, and a 24-hour paparazzi service endlessly committing acts of voyeurism on pop stars. One thing is for sure, you might flip on the telly and find the Shade Tree mechanic teaching you how to change your anti-freeze, or a televised cosmetic surgery, or Emeril working his kitchen-hacking magic, and maybe even a game review for the Wii.

But you'll never see a guy on TV sitting down with a computer saying, "Folks, if you get an attachment to a strange email that is an execute file, don't click on it. We're going to deliberately infect this computer and open the registry to show you why that's a bad idea." No, when technology plays a role at all, it's the nauseatingly stupid stereotype of the teenage "hacker" wearing Geordi LaForge glasses, stuffing his face with junk food, and surrounded by dime-store sci-fi prop gadgets. Is there a single media executive who realizes that the Internet is used every day by common people on normal computers that don't look like The Matrix threw up on the screen?

How about our trusted proprietary software companies - are they going to help you? Hell, no! That's another nail in their coffin, every time somebody learns how to program. Unless, of course, they learn through a corporate-certified training course where they are obligated to pay money to invest in a career at that company only. They sure aren't going to see you learn to write your own operating system. That knowledge is reserved for the occupants of the Ivory Tower - protected by Non-Disclosure Agreements on all fronts!

What about the government? The United States Government's current attitude towards technology education can be summed up as "Complete Apathy".

Take a 360-degree glance around you - how many digital devices are around you right now? And of those, how many invite you to explore them and find out how they work? That's right, everything is sealed tight, with warning stickers plastered all over it about voiding your warranty if you so much as think about getting a screwdriver. All patented and copyrighted, locked up tight. If it breaks, you're just supposed to chuck it and buy a new one, like a good little consumer cow! Who do you think you are, to ask to know what's going on inside that hardware you bought with your hard-earned money? And you wonder why you seem behind the times?

From this day forward, I would like all of you who see geeks as being "elitist", to see the situation in a new light. If you count yourself as one who can "barely turn the machine on", all folks like me want to do is help you get more comfortable with technology, because technology is going to rule our whole lives whether we are ready for it or not. Instead of seeing yourself as normal and the advanced ones as "the elite", you need to start seeing the advanced users as "barely keeping their head above water" and yourself as "drowning". There is none, not even the most skilled kernel developer, who does not feel that they have a lot more learning to do.

Don't apologize for being angry - in fact, you're not nearly angry enough! It is our right, as citizens, to demand to be taught to read and write and do arithmetic. How about demanding to be taught technology as well? We need a Freedom of Technology Information Act: No more patents. No more NDAs. No more copy protection. Mandatory free access to source code released with every copy of every binary sold. Public courses and classes for free (Just paid your taxes? Didn't get your money's worth again this year, did you? No, neither did I.). It's about time - long overdue - that somebody pointed out that this plague of technology illiteracy is an emergency.

All of that I just said, right down to the source code, is your God-given right as a human being! I'm talking to you, grandma, you, Joe Sixpack, you, Susie Soccer-Mom!

  • Your food is required to list ingredients.
  • Your government is required to disclose its practices to you through the Freedom of Information Act.
  • You have the right to review a Material Safety Data Sheet for any hazardous chemical you're exposed to.
  • Your bank is required to tell you how they compute your interest rate.

The list goes on and on, of industries which have to conform to a level of consumer rights via disclosure of practices. Why not demand your right to access technology's secrets as well? What is the worst that would happen if you pick up a phone and tell your Senator, "Where's my goddamn source code!?!" At least it would be good for a laugh, right?

Well, thanks for listening to my rant. As a door prize, steal this graphic and do with it as you will:

I Refuse to be a Consumer Cow!

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