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The Knowledge Divide - can it only get wider?

Date/Time Permalink: 05/06/06 02:34:30 pm
Category: General

I've never seen anything like the huge gulf that separates knowledgeable computer users from the uhm, unknowledgeable, considering that computers are so widespread. We have about as many microwave ovens as we have computers in the consumer market, but we aren't separated into those who can just set them to cook for 5 minutes and those who need a wizard to bake their potato. We all have cars, but at least all of us know where to put the gas and oil - and the idea that you can fix your own car is so widespread, there's an auto-parts store in every city! We all have (OK, all of you; I hate them) cell phones, but nobody's asking their relative to come over and dial numbers for them.

Yet stand amidst a gathering of home gardeners, experienced cooks, backyard mechanics, basement carpenters, and parents, and let it slip that you have built your own computer, have installed an operating system on it yourself, and write programs on it on a regular basis. There's no other reaction like it. First the shock hits them, BAM!, as their atavistic primordial reflexes drive them a few steps back. Then the murmurs to each other: "A witch! Should we burn it at a stake?" "No, I think you need silver bullets!" "No, you have to cut off it's head and bury it with a garlic clove in it's mouth!" "Well, do not let it speak, or it will put a spell on us..." After this follows years of stigma. Not public admission of the grossest sexual deviation nor confession of deranged substance abuse marks you quite as permanently as the revelation of your computer literacy.

What *is* *it* about computers? Never in history has such a simple device been so clouded in mysticism. I mean motherboard processor cooling-fan hard-drive CD-ROM-drive power-box video-card cables case monitor keyboard mouse. Fewer parts than a motorcycle engine, less ingredients than your Thanksgiving dinner, and certainly less knowledge than it takes to raise a baby. Or even make one.

Today's exhibit is a piece which, while an obvious troll, isn't too far from the public perception of computer geeks as I hear it in some places. Imagine my thrill in discovering that I share the same state with this...thing. Can somebody drag her ass to the tulip festival and chill her out, please?

Yes, it's official: we're terrorists, and after the sensationalist propaganda that chased Kevin Mitnick around a quarter-century ago, was there any doubt we'd be hearing it? It doesn't matter if your computer knowledge extends as far as installing Quake 3 - all knowledge is apparently bad.

*PANT PANT* But then we chill *ourselves* out. It's not really that bad. Linux is going onto government computers and is being advocated by churches, now. Such pillars of industry as IBM and Sun are making friends with open source. And not a minute too soon - five more years out here on our own and we'd be Salem fodder. No, we know better than to take this hilariously over-the-top McCarthyism seriously.

Uh-huh, the above histrionics were just for the giggle value. Yes, I know. Full of surprises, aren't I?

But consider in all seriousness: there's people walking around out there with *jobs* - who WOULDN'T know any better than to take my rant - or "ShelleyTheRepublican"'s - seriously! Now, that's the scary part. Picture Dark Ages peasants living side-by-side with astronauts. That's how severe the tech divide has gotten.

All this came to mind on reading Annalee Newitz's column on RFID cloning (warning! Buggy Javascript ads - it is Wired magazine, after all! - so turn on your adblock before you click or your browser might hang). Ah, I love it when a new technology crime comes out! So far, the reaction has been tepid. But nearly every commercial or industrial building in America taller than two stories uses the plastic badge to swipe at a scanner, and before all of those systems will be replaced by a more secure system, an imperial blivet of hysteria is going to be spread about electricians and engineers via RFID-cloners.

Will the day come when engineers have to defend their job title as non-criminal, the way hackers do today? Will anybody with a couple of parts from Radio Shack be jailed on suspicion? It would be nice if we could just have a security hole revealed, a solution found, and a patch issued without having the whole Cecil B deMille passion-play about it. But then, I suppose, we wouldn't be able to sell as many tabloids with fun headlines like this.

In the meantime, if Osama wants Linux to ditch the command line in favor of an all-GUI interface, the answer is STILL no!

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