I have a couple of pet peeves about the way people talk about the tech industry. When I say tech, I mean computers, cell phones, Internet stuff and pretty much anything that gets near a microprocessor. Let me give a couple of examples of my pet peeves and I’ll wrap it together at the end.
There’s a lot of effort being expended on how to effectively bring technology into the schools. There are so many well-intentioned programs that have failed where grants are acquired, computers or tablets purchased, the devices given to the teachers … and then nothing extraordinary happens. Smart people have worked really hard to come up with ways to introduce technology but often the dream isn’t realized. Many people blame the teachers, saying that the students know more than them about the technology and that the only solution is for the teachers to age out.
It makes me CRAZY when I hear that phrase. It’s such an arrogance of youth to think that the younger generation won’t also be out of touch with new technology in 10-20 years! I know there was a significant bend in the technology curve here in the last 20 years, but the rate of change certainly not slowing down. So when today’s teachers age out, which I’m pretty sure is just a euphemism for “die off”, they’ll be followed by another generation that is behind the kids and maybe even MORE behind. Perhaps it’s because I’m an old fart this bothers me so much but this view seems to be very short sighted.
There’s another place that I hear similar things and that’s about how the U.S Patent Office just doesn’t understand technology. Why do we think our particular subject is so unique that it alone befuddles the Patent office? I’m pretty sure there are an awful lot of complex subjects with patents, perhaps way more complex than the tech stuff we understand. Think about it, do the patent people easily grasp all of the details behind metallurgy? nuclear physics? radar systems? electro-optics? non-linear structural dynamics? Why do we think technology is so special? Maybe the every day life of a hard working person at the Patent Office is filled with a giant list of insanely complex subjects to try to assess and technology is just another one in that long list.
Here’s another one. We’ve all been twitterpated lately about Net Neutrality and watching closely the moves of the FCC in the US about it. I hear over and over again how bad it is that Tom Wheeler, current Chairman of the FCC is a former lobbyist for the cable industry. Well now wait a minute. On the one hand we’re angry that the patent lawyers aren’t computer scientists that understand the intricate details of technology, but if we have someone in the FCC who is intimately familiar with how the Internet and cable industry works then that’s a bad thing too? Sure it would be nice if the person wasn’t on the other side of the argument from the common man, but if we had someone in there who was only a common man or woman, wouldn’t we be complaining about how they didn’t know diddly squat about the subject? By the way, I read his bio, and he was president of the NCTA (National Cable Television Association) until 1984 … THIRTY YEARS ago. Since then he’s been a venture capitalist investing in early stage IP-based companies. But heck, we wouldn’t want someone with that level of understanding to be working on regulation, would we?
You know I love technology but this attitude that it’s so much more special than any other expertise really diminishes the value of what non-geeks know. I see it every day in real life. Someone will say to me, “Oh, I’m a really dummy about technology.” I want to shake them and make them stop talking like that! I may be good at tech but guess what? I can’t figure out how to get my stupid lime tree to give me fruit for my gin and tonics! You know what else? I can’t clean a carburetor. Heck, I probably couldn’t identify one. I can’t rewire a house. I don’t know how a Monte Carlo analysis works in calculating rates of return on investment. Do I walk around feeling less useful because I don’t know these things? Heck no, I just depend on other people to know it. Unfortunately because tech is becoming so pervasive, those who don’t have a geek bent are feeling like they’re less valuable because of it, and part of the problem is the way we talk about tech.
When I got started on this rant I wasn’t sure where it was going but I think my message is this. Tech is cool and it’s fun, but don’t think it’s any more special than what non-geeks know.