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Tech Geezers vs. Young Bloods 768

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the culture-clash-and-the-kids-these-days dept.
Lam1969 writes "Robert Mitchell talks about how technology is dividing him from younger generations: "The technologies I've watched grow have shaped an entire culture of which I am not a part." Adds Dinosaur: "Ask them [members of the younger generation] HOW the things work, and they have no idea. They are really riding on the backs of the 'old folks' like us that built the goodies they enjoy.""
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Tech Geezers vs. Young Bloods

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  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:01PM (#13677977)
    Jeez...this whole story reads like one of Dana Carvey's Grumpy Old Man segments on Dennis Miller's 'Weekend Update' on SNL.
    "I'm oooooold! And I'm not happy! And I don't like things now compared to the way they used to be. All this progress -- phooey!"
    Dana Carvey, Grumpy Old Man
    • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:5, Insightful)

      by biryokumaru (822262) * <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:06PM (#13678028)

      You always get this kind of attitude when a technology reaches a divergent point. I would hazard that many people know how to build CPUs and how the internal workings of a system function as ever, it's just that the hardware and the software have slowly diverged over the past twenty years. No longer do you need to know the particulars of a video card to communicate with it, etc. It isn't necessary for software people to know hardware, and visa versa. Both fields have become complex enough to function independently.

      Thanks to standardization of system design and function, this isn't really a problem. And I'm certain that AMD and Intel take very careful consideration of the software demands their hardware will face (as do Crucial, ASUS, et al).

      There may be a few remaining niches where the software and the hardware remain inextricably intertwined, such as small consumer devices, (iPod Nano, palmtop computers, etc).

      It's the modern dilemma: there is too much to know. Two or three hundred years ago, you could read every book ever written. Now you can't even read every book ever written about computing.

      It's the old joke: How many software engineers does it take to change a light bulb?

      That's a hardware problem.

      • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:4, Interesting)

        by 'nother poster (700681) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:25PM (#13678251)
        I don't know anything about diverging fieldds and such, but it's simply a sign that the technologies have become commodities. At the early part of a technologies lifecycle only the early adopters and geeks get into it and have to know the nuts and bolts of how it works because you have to make it and maintain it. Then some others come in and you have to maintain it for them. Then the tech gets matured to the point that it becomes a commodity and they still need many of the originl geeks and adopters to maintain it, but they don't do nearly as much down in the guts of the tech anymore. Very few tech geeks nowadays could tell you all the parts that go into a working steam turbine electrical generating system, but they can sure plug in a gadget and use the electricity. This allows the next generation to focus their efforts on the next new technology, which will eventually become the next commodity, ad infinitum.
        • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:5, Interesting)

          by biryokumaru (822262) * <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:47PM (#13678486)

          I'll bet the people who maintain or design and build the Tesla turbines know how they work. That's what I mean by divergence versus commoditization.

          With commoditization, as you describe it, the common fear is that all the knowledge will one day be lost because no one has to use it anymore. You see this in a lot of B Sci-Fi movies set in the distant future, often leading to religious-based uprising (religion being the clear enemy of science, what?)

          Whereas, with technological divergence, you end up with the breakup of a field into two, like "computers" into "hardware" and "software." There are plenty of electrical engineering students who know what NPN and PNP mean, and haven't a clue about, say, the pros and cons of classes versus structs re functional programming and modularization.

          Thus I say it is a point of divergence, because the field has broken into component fields. Commoditization is a realistic fear, which was certainly described somewhat in TFA, but I think it is somewhat narrow-minded at this point. Most people don't know a carburetor from a transaxle, or what ring and tell have to do with traditional land-line telephones. That doesn't mean that knowledge is lost.

          I, being a believer in meritocracy, ignore the actions of the end-users, who know not what they do.

          • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:3, Insightful)

            by einhverfr (238914)
            THe problem though is that IT guys often don't have conceptual concepts of the software they are using that work. This is not a problem of either divergance or commoditization but rather the fact that there is so much legacy crap out there that refuses to die (OSI model, for example) but only lives on in the minds of marketeers that in order to be buzzword compliant, you have to learn all sorts of useless crap that doesn't really work.

            So many of the younger generation really doesn't understand the TCP/IP s
          • by xs650 (741277)
            don't know what ring and tell have to do with traditional land-line telephones. That doesn't mean that knowledge is lost.

            It's "ring and tip" , young'un :)

      • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Monkelectric (546685) <slashdot@@@monkelectric...com> on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:25PM (#13678253)
        More then that, it is now impossible to completely understand a computer. I used to program in assembly, and I understood how every chip on the motherboard worked, and all of their little quirks. That is now impossible, and programms must rely on the makers of the chips to make them accessable through drivers.
        • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:5, Informative)

          by qwijibo (101731) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:51PM (#13678533)
          In the bad old days, it was necessary to understand the hardware if you wanted to write interesting software. It may not be possible to understand everything about modern systems, but don't forget that we learned it about the old systems because we had to, not because it was always fun.

          I used to know all the memory locations in the Atari 800 and how to use them to do all sorts of things. I knew 6502 assembly and a slew of other languages for the Atari. It was a good platform at the time, but I wouldn't want to go back to the hardware or even the software of yesteryear.

          I don't know as much about any of the platforms I use now. However, I now have a ton of other tools available that make what I'm doing easier. I'll take a modern Unix system over an Atari 800 any day of the week. I believe I can emulate the Atari under Unix, as a testament to the progress we've made. I can also appreciate that I don't have to solve as many problems as before, because others have already done it and made their programs available.

          I've been using computers for 25 years now. I think I count as a geezer. I don't think my kids will lack any of the opportunities I had. In fact, I think they'll be better off because I can give them my old hardware running Unix. They won't have to mess around with a bunch of proprietary systems before they can discover the One True Way. =)
          • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Raven_Stark (747360) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @04:40PM (#13680110)
            I sort of miss the old days sometimes. As a kid doing assembly (and machine!) code on my C64 I felt like I knew almost every little detail of how it worked. I felt like a god in total control of my little universe.

            With modern programming its more like being a CEO barking out orders to my minions (makers, compilers, assemblers, linkers and such). I haven't really a f*ing clue what is really going on anymore. I suspect they do a lot of slacking off but I can't see it from my office.

            It reminds me of what Richard Feynman said about the advantages of growing up with vacuum tube based radios, how you could much more easily see how they worked. Now it's just a few black boxes connected by hard to see wires, and there as so many bells and whistles, it is harder to get a feel for what is going on.

            Perhaps it isn't essential to know all the details, but it is fun to learn anyway. If I had a geeky kid, I'd encourage him to play with my Atmel microcontrollers and developer board. Its good clean fun and maybe it would come in handy some day.

            In emergency situations is interesting what dumb mistakes people make because they are so used to being far removed from the details of how things work. After a hurricane several people will always bring their generator indoors and die of carbon monoxide poisoning. Several will make obvious errors cutting up fallen trees and end up crushed. Many don't even seem to know how to cook without electricity or start a fire without matches or a lighter. I know of one person who couldn't even figure out how to eat from plants full of string beans, only knew how to warm them from a can. This is mostly stuff our ancestors dealt with daily.
        • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:3, Informative)

          by utnow (808790)
          Ask them [members of the younger generation] HOW the things work, and they have no idea. They are really riding on the backs of the 'old folks' like us that built the goodies they enjoy. Like the old saying goes... "If I've seen farther than others, it's because I've stood on the shoulders of giants."
          • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:5, Informative)

            by Random_Goblin (781985) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @05:28PM (#13680411)
            Like the old saying goes... "If I've seen farther than others, it's because I've stood on the shoulders of giants."

            It's actually a quote from Issac Newton...

            now if you know anything about the real Issac Newton this quote seems remarkably out of character, the rest of his career he was an insufferable arrogant bastard (probably made even worse by being right a lot of the time) but he was never one to thank others for their contributions to his work... just look at calculus [wikipedia.org]...

            but if Newton disliked Leibniz he hated Robert Hooke [wikipedia.org] (you remember hooke's law for springs?) with a passion. (Hooke had demonstrated flaws in newtons theory of light)... hooke also had ideas about and inverse square law for gravity nearly 10 yrs before newton, but lacked the maths to prove it.

            Hooke was also very very short, so newtons reference to standing on the shoulder's of giants was not some magnanimous gesture on his part, but rather an act of sarcastic bile directed at hooke.

            after hookes death, when newton was president of the royal society, newton systematically removed as much of hookes work as he could from the records, which is why now most people can only remember the thing about springs if he's lucky.

            Its a great shame really, because by all accounts Hooke was the much more interesting person.

            his book micrographia was the first "best seller" the coffe table book of its day, everyone had to have one, the first time the microscopic world was made available to the masses.

            He was very fond of attractive young women, having scandalous affairs and 3 in bed sex romps with his house keepers until late in his life.

            he made a small fortune after the fire of london, being good mates with wren, as he was london surveyor. Basically he was the one that went round to assess peoples compensation claims regarding the amount of land they lost, and obviously the more money you gave the surveyor the more likely he was to agree with your definitions of your land boundry.

            oh yeah did i mention he and wren designed the royal observatory at greenwich?

            ultimately hooke was the cool scientist a lot of us would like to be, and newton was the insufferable wanker a lot of us wind up being...
        • And before you, they understood every transistor, then every valve, then the innards of every valve, then the mathematics behind the theoretical Babbage machine...
      • It's the modern dilemma: there is too much to know. Two or three hundred years ago, you could read every book ever written. Now you can't even read every book ever written about computing.

        But you can read most of what's been written about computing. By eliminating redundant books/passages, you can probably reduce the amount of material by an order of magnitude or two.

      • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:4, Informative)

        by the bluebrain (443451) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:39PM (#13678398)
        [...] Two or three hundred years ago, you could read every book ever written.
         
        I agree with your main point ... but dude ... This went on in the 200's B. C., and it is interesting to note that there were already so many works in existence that obtaining a copy of each would have been an impossible undertaking even then. [umn.edu] Even just in English around the early 18th century you would have been in trouble.
      • Not really. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by einhverfr (238914) <chris.traversNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:48PM (#13678504) Homepage Journal
        It's the modern dilemma: there is too much to know. Two or three hundred years ago, you could read every book ever written.

        But committing to memory all of the oral tradition even in one culture would have a similar education to what we have today. I think it was Pliny who said that the Druids had something like 20 years of training. And it doesn't take a professional Linguist to read something like "How to Kill a Dragon" and realize the depth of these traditions. Or how easily can one commit the entire Rig Veda to memory (it was originally memorized, you know).

        In other words, the required knowledge in specialized fields really isn't a new phenominon.

        The second issue is that most of this stuff isn't really that conceptually complex. It can easily be explained in Contemporary Standard American English without using jargon. The problem is that people have so much ego invested in broken analogies (OSI model used to "explain" how TCP works, for example, with few people even remembering that OSI was supposed to be a competitor to TCP and built along fundamentally different assumptions).

        In short it is not that there is too much to know, but that it is hard to winnow it down so that you know what information to consume. The problem is compounded by broken requirements like knowing the OSI model which is not only dead but broken.

        (I always tell people to memorize the OSI model for exams and then don't ever worry about using it after.)
      • by adavies42 (746183) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:58PM (#13678614)

        It's the old joke: How many software engineers does it take to change a light bulb?

        That's a hardware problem.

        And how many hardware engineers does it take to change a light bulb?

        We'll fix it in software.

      • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mrbooze (49713) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @02:26PM (#13678840)
        Also, in the Corporate IT field at least, there is strong selection for specialization. Most of our network guys are clueless about operating systems, and most of our O/S people are clueless about low level networking. Hell, most of them wouldn't even know how to do subnet math.

        And the corporate environment encourages that. Naturally, nobody not in the network group is allowed to touch the networking equipment, so they'll likely never learn much beyond what they need to know for O/S support, etc etc. This silo-ing extends throughout much of Corporate IT in my experience. It discourages cross-training and encourages specialization to what imo is an excessive degree.
      • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Exactly, this is a basic economic problem relating to specialization.

        People don't need to understand everything about every mundane detail in life to be able to be a functional and productive member of society, and indeed we shouldn't strive for this. Honestly, I don't know how to change my own oil in my car, but I doubt that the dude at Jiffy Lube knows anything about software development. We all have our own absolute and comparative advantages in life. For me, and for society, it is better for me to ta
      • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:3, Interesting)

        by xero314 (722674)
        I have always been of the beleif that the seperation or hardware and software has actually been holding the computer industry back. I am one of the few "young bloods" that actually have a good understanding of the hardware (most of the people I work with don't even know what a register is, let alone how to use it). This lack of knowledge by newer software engineer has caused many programs to be much slower and more memory intensive than they need to.

        A classic example of this shows up in Java alot, wher
    • by j_kenpo (571930) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:08PM (#13678046)
      "Back in my day, all we had was 640KB, and it was enough. And thats the way we liked it!!!"
    • Re:Grumpy Old Man (Score:3, Informative)

      by James_Aguilar (890772)
      On top of that, I don't get the sense from reading the article that the author knows how any of this stuff works either. How is he any different from us except that he was around when some current techs didn't exist?
    • by StressGuy (472374) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:13PM (#13678113)
      "I'm oooooold! And I'm not happy! And I don't like things now compared to the way they used to be. All this progress -- phooey!"

                      Dana Carvey, Grumpy Old Man

      Sounds more like my wife...and you have no idea how much trouble I'm in for saying that (not to mention how depressing it is to discover that your wife is a grumpy old man) :(

  • by Skyshadow (508) * on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:02PM (#13677983) Homepage
    The average 15 year old doesn't know how his IM works behind the scenes? Well no fucking shit -- point to me at some point in the last 100 years where your average person knew to any degree of certainty how their tech worked.

    Aside from that, anyone who is actually surprised that people who grew up using a given piece of tech will have different attitudes towards it than the people who've had to adapt to it needs to be locked up someplace where they won't pose a threat to their own well-being. It should be obvious to anyone who hasn't spent their entire life in a coma that this is just how it works.

    I'm not trying to post flamebait here, but honestly I can't even concieve of another reaction to this...

    • by dlefavor (725930) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:08PM (#13678049)
      point to me at some point in the last 100 years where your average person knew to any degree of certainty how their tech worked

      I don't think it's the average user, the author is bothered by, it's the average technology person.

      I'm often unpleasantly surprised with some of my supposedly technical colleagues' ignorance as to how computers work.

      • I don't think it's the average user, the author is bothered by, it's the average technology person.

        None of the examples from TFA involve technology people; no engineers, designers, etc. All his examples are Just Plain Folks(TM). The recurring theme in his rant is that there's a culture of technology use that he's not a part of. Welcome to the generation gap, dude.
      • by garcia (6573) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:27PM (#13678264) Homepage
        I'm often unpleasantly surprised with some of my supposedly technical colleagues' ignorance as to how computers work.

        You only need to know about your own little world. "Jack of all trades" are irrelevant in just about every other community these days what makes computers different?

        Yeah, I like to know a little bit about everything but I'm not a guru in anything. I can putter along in whatever I'm faced with (PHP, perl, Linux, BSD/OS X, Windows, networking, DNS, SMTP, whatever) but I'm not a guru in any. That's not a good thing. I'd be better paid (and possibly less happy) if I was.

        I know plenty of geniuses in multiple fields that don't know shit about other stuff and you know what? It doesn't matter in the long run.

        What I'm more bothered by is that the average tech person still desires to be above everyone else in some way or another.
      • No kidding (Score:5, Interesting)

        by einhverfr (238914) <chris.traversNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:40PM (#13678407) Homepage Journal
        I am often put into the role of teaching others how things work. I am 29 years old and have no CS background (I am entirely self-taught). I talk to most techies and they have no idea how things work behind the scenes. I am not talking "this IM client sends the message to the server which sends it to the other IM client." I am talking an in-depth understanding of how things like TCP, IP, and UDP work. They generally have no clue. I actually had one student who had several years of IT experience tell me that he thought UDP and ICMP were the same thing...

        How did I understand how these things worked? I started by reading the oldest documentation I could find. Part of the problem is that computer professionals have become very good at confusing eachother (using the OSI model to discuss TCP/IP for example) and the other part is that the document writers in general don't understand what they are writing about. Then I could go and read newer documentation and have some sense of what it is worth. Good documentation in this industry is a rare thing.

        Maybe it helped that both of my grandparents on my mom's side were writing programs before I was even in diapers ;-)
      • I sometimes think that's related to the influx of people who do it for the money. I think I still count as young blood (under 30.) And I know my friends and I all know the history of the machine (if we haven't necessarily done punch cards, I have respect for the fact that I don't have to carry a stack in a particular order carefully from one end of campus to the other.)

        The only people I can think of who wouldn't are a few of the people I know who have learned the technology trade, not grew up with a passion for the machine. (Note when I say friends above i mean the latter. I make friends with similar people.)

        So yeah, I think anyone who has a real interest in computation studies knows with some interest how circuits are arranged, how Turing machines work, is at least afraid of the y-combinator, and knows that language fights are dumb. :) I think once the pay starts decreasing again, then things won't be taken for granted *quite* as much.

        One mild caveat to all of this, however. Managing complexity means abstracting. As we continue to add complexity there's a point at which some people just won't want to understand how a machine works inside. They blackbox it and move on. Hopefully they'll still get a top-level from it.

        • I sometimes think that's related to the influx of people who do it for the money.

          For me it was the emergence of object models and frameworks. When I started (1978), each language had about 100 commands and functions that you had to string together to make the logic of the application. You could literally have the entire grammar of the language in your head to build whatever you wanted.

          Now, you have to know the object model, the APIs, the various tools and debuggers. The programming experience is a lot m
        • Definitely the profession was watered down by all the moneyseekers in the 90s. And those people are already moving on to other fields. Everyone's discovered that a rote-learned task is the easiest to outsource.

          And yes, abstractions will hide knowledge, keeping people from needing to learn what's in the box. But a lot of boxes in computer science are still troublesome enough that there is still be a need for the deeper understanding.

          The key to survival is to know when a particular box can be ignored.

      • by Himring (646324) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @02:12PM (#13678731) Homepage Journal
        I don't know. Personally, it seems things are changing a bit regarding how my generation is viewed vs the now-young. I "grew-up" in the era of up-and-coming personal-computers. My first was a ti994a wherein I learned basic at age 13. DOS, Wolf3d, Doom, Windows 3.x, Netware, Lotus Notes administration, NT, Sendmail.... Now, I'm in a half-tech/half-paper-pusher role where I still have my Linux box here, my unix there my windows (terminal) ... here, and I have a team of younger techs, in their early and mid-20s, that I work with and lead.

        My uncle was my mentor who is a backbone switch guy -- to this day -- for a big telco running nortel racks and keeping big stuff going -- cool as hell when he takes me to "the node." He can barely use windows and relies on me for everything, but he can build a tv and actually puts a wafer board to use and, yes, he looks like froheki. I respect the hell out of him. The guy who taught me routers and switches and cisco is now in his 60s and also can't use windows, but he'll keep your damn network running smooth. He lives in telnet and writes everything down on a legal pad. I think he's a god -- always have. The guys under me tend to laugh at anyone older, treat them like their idiots and scoff at any supposed technical aptitude -- both the nortel and the switch guy and myself. They seem to presume to know more out-of-the-box on anything that comes up, but they are windows xp centric, college guys. I love 'em and relate to them and not all are like that, but more often than not they are. They couldn't setup a netware 3.x box if they had to or bang out a quick grep command to find something, but they can play wow, explain the latest tech on the latest nvidia card and hook up a shuffle -- things that the two ancients I mentioned would and could never do, but they know they can't....

        It just seems there is a loss of respect for the pioneers and the level 60 wizards that were doing technology while the new generation was in diapers or even born. Again, my personal opinion....
    • by GMFTatsujin (239569) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:18PM (#13678165) Homepage
      Regardless, I think there's value in knowing *how* technology works independent of why you use it. The more convenient things become for you, the more is going on behind the scenes that can potentially screw you.

      The way to keep from getting screwed is to know what's going on. The author of TFA is in danger of not knowing how the next-gen tech is going to screw him. The next-gen users are in danger of not knowing how their tech works so that they can fix it or live without if it breaks. Or even recognise a better alternative when they see it. (I guess that last one depends on your definition of "better", which is part of that generation gap thing. . .)

      Maybe it's old-fashioned or apocalyptic of me, but I still see a burgeoning Morlocks vs. Eloi dystopia in the making here, especially when insubstantials are involved such as data access and communication methodology.
    • The average 15 year old doesn't know how his IM works behind the scenes? Well no fucking shit -- point to me at some point in the last 100 years where your average person knew to any degree of certainty how their tech worked.

      When my peers carry on like Ellen Feiss ("And then it was like, 'bleep bleep bleep'"), I've often said, "I know exactly why that happened, but I don't think you really care to hear the explanation," to have them carry on as if I hadn't spoken. They really don't care, and frankly I d

  • by CyricZ (887944) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:03PM (#13677994)
    Eventually the knowledge will be passed along to the younger generations. They'll pick up where us oldies have left off. Indeed, it is often said that it is more difficult for them. We have left them with systems that are far more complex than were left to us when we all started. I trust in our younger generations. They'll be able to advance our technological knowledge. And the best thing is that we're now drawing from the most creative and brilliant minds of India, China, Korea and many other nations. We're bound to make tremendous discoveries just because we now have so many talented people working in the technology field.

    • by Catamaran (106796) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:18PM (#13678177)
      I recently read "Guns, Germs, Steel" by Jarad Diamond, in which he explores the different levels and rates of technological development in ancient peoples. One of the many interesting points that he makes is that there needs to be a certain population size and density before invention can take place. The society must be stable enough to support a leisure class to do the inventing.

      Conversely, and this relates to the parent post, when population numbers decline inventions are sometimes lost. He sites examples of societies that had acquired and then subsequently lost, writing, the wheel, and other technologies.

    • "The world of the future will be an evermore demanding struggle against the limitations of our intellegence, not a comfortable hyammock in which we can lie down to be waited upon by our robot slaves."
      -Norbert Weiner (1894-1964)

      Each suceeding generation begins a couple steps ahead of the old. That shift in point of origin allows the younger generations to view the old's accomplishments as the beginning of something more, while the old can only see the tremendous effort it required.
  • by It doesn't come easy (695416) * on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:03PM (#13677999) Journal
    Abe: I used to be with it, but then they changed what "it" was. Now, what I'm with isn't it, and what's "it" seems weird and scary to me. (Episode: 3F21 Homerpalooza)

    It's only going to get worse as the pace of change continues to accelerate. In ten years a few engineers will be designing new classes of electronics based on quantum principles. Or totally new types of devices based on photons or magnetic spin vs. electron charge. Ten years later, that will be passé and maybe we'll be doing something with neutrinos. Who knows how things will work 30 years from now. It will all be magic by then.
  • by CyberBill (526285) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:04PM (#13678001)
    "Ask them [members of the younger generation] HOW the things work, and they have no idea. They are really riding on the backs of the 'old folks' like us that built the goodies they enjoy.""

    Do the same thing to the old folks. They dont know either. Of course some punk ass kid on a skateboard doesnt know how stuff works, hes retarded. A generation does not invent, select individuals do. Remember, people are stupid.
  • It is somewhat true (Score:5, Interesting)

    by suitepotato (863945) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:04PM (#13678007)
    I feel kind of odd watching flamewars about who is tougher and more hardcore, C++ or some other language group, and I think to myself, "maybe they should have to actually deal with assembly, logic, and bits for real before they start talking hardcore. I remember when we were putting together kits out of catalogs with hex pads and light up bulbs and calling it computing.

    Oh well. I think all this excitement has gotten to me. I'm going to go take a nap now. Where's my cane?
    • by CyricZ (887944) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:09PM (#13678062)
      Let's take your example of assembly versus C++ versus some other language. Consider the software that was written in assembly back in the 1950s and 1960s. Sure, there were some pretty impressive pieces of work. Various compilers, OS/360, and whatnot. But compared to software today, such items are of a level of complexity often expected from first or second year undergraduate Comp. Sci. students.

      Sure, we're not using assembly today, but even some of the more minor systems implemented in C++ are far more complex than anything that was written in pure assembly several decade ago. I mean, look at something like an optimizing JIT Java virtual machine or a .NET runtime. Those are fairly complex motherfuckers. Far more complex than anything that was even conceived a few decades back.

      • Not to flame a fire (you are correct of course) but that's not the original posters point. If anything, you add to his point. Programs written in assembly (and other low level languages) were very simple, but that's because it was a monumental undertaking to write them.

        Just because CS1 students are expected to write programs that were once at the pinnacle of computer science doesn't mean that programming the same applications in assembly is any easier.

        Just wanted to point out the obvious...
      • by suitepotato (863945) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:57PM (#13678605)
        You're missing my point (and maybe I wasn't clear). The core of all higher languages is in the end the basic logic of binary circuits. Understand AND, NAND, OR, NOR, XOR, etc., and binary math, and that everything devolves to those foundations and you have a better grasp on what you can do with the higher concepts. I rather think the explosion of applications on every platform with crappy memory management and bloat is directly related to this. Coders of today do not understand anything about stacks and registers and limitations. Frugality, Occam's Razor, and other important principles are ignored and heck, never even learned. Just throw everything you want in there and since you don't know why any of the snippets does what it does in machine code, you won't know when a compiler is going to do its designed thing and result in problems. If you did know, you would have written things differently. The law of unintended consequences can be hemmed in by understanding the finer grained lower levels of any complex system. It isn't for nothing that the people who design and build engines have to know something of metallurgy, mechanical engineering, materials engineering, machining, etc. What the little tiny bits of metal will do in response to the doings of the big complex engine is important. So too is it with programming.
      • by Angst Badger (8636) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @03:05PM (#13679243)
        The difference is that in Ye Olde Days, a programmer had to understand all of that complexity because he had to code it himself. Today's systems are more complex, but the average programmer only has to understand the interfaces presented by various pre-packaged APIs and components that hide the complexity -- which was presumably understood by the specialist programmers who designed those components.

        The sad truth of the matter is that both the oldbies and the newbies are wrong. Contrary to what the oldbies think, the field is now sufficiently large that it's not possible to understand all of the complexities, and you don't need to understand all of them. The newbies, on the other hand, are so wrapped up in their reflexive sophomoric belief that new = better that they miss the valuable point that their predecessors are making: sometimes, you can write better software if you know what's going on inside the black box.

        This reminds me of the pointless flamewar that erupts from time to time between hard-core assembly language programmers and the users (but seldom the developers) of optimizing compilers. There is a popular but mistaken belief that today's optimizing compilers can outperform hand-coded assembly. Even for some fairly trivial cases, this is simply not true, but you have to be an experienced assembly language programmer to even make the comparison between human-generated and machine-generated code.

        What I think the oldbies are really lamenting -- at least *I* am lamenting it, having been programming since the punch-card era -- is the declining level of skill necessary to write software. In the old days, it had to be not only good, but actually excellent code, because the hardware wasn't fast or capacious enough to handle the kind of code that's the norm these days. No one -- well, very few of us -- wrote code in assembly language because we wanted to; we did it because we had to. And from this, there was the usual pride that arises from what amounted to fine craftsmanship. Nowadays, the economics of software development have shifted so that it is just too goddamn expensive to build code that way, not that it's more expensive than it ever was, but because it's so much cheaper to throw some fresh junior college grads at it and call it good. That they come complete with the arrogance of ignorance only adds insult to injury.

        This is not the first time this has happened. You heard similar complaints from all of the craftsmen who were put out of work by the industrial revolution. Fine, hand-crafted furniture is stronger, longer-lasting, and (arguably) more attractive than the particle-board and veneered junk that comes out of industrial furniture factories, but no one can afford the "good" stuff anymore, and the cheap junk is good enough.

        The difference in quality is not imaginary. Compare the old MS-DOS editor, QEdit, with the trivial and ubiquitous Unix editor, PICO. QEdit, which was written in assembly language and is completely statically linked, weighed in somewhere around 48k and included vastly more capabilities as well as a fairly sophisticated macro language. PICO, which doesn't have much in the way of capabilities at all and is written in a high-level language, weighs in at 171k and then dynamically links in some more libraries, occupying over a meg of RAM before it has even loaded a file.

        Would the average user notice any difference in performance if all code was written the old way? Yes, especially -- but not exclusively -- on older machines. The problem is that the average user couldn't afford to buy software built that way, any more than the average person can afford to furnish their entire home with fine handcrafted furniture.

        What surprises me, however, is that in the free software world, where such economic considerations do not apply, the free apps are often not much better than the equivalent commercial apps. OpenOffice and MS Office, for example, are both big, lumbering, resource-hungry hogs whose resour
  • by gamer4Life (803857) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:05PM (#13678014)
    How many people can produce a fire out of just sticks?

    Fact is, our society is becoming increasingly specialized, and it's no surprise that some people won't understand the technology behind it even though they use it frequently. They're just specialized in other things, that's all.

    As long as *somebody* knows how the technology works (engineers and scientists), there isn't a need to worry.
  • Cry me a river. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by doubleyewdee (633486) <.wd. .at. .telekinesis.org.> on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:09PM (#13678059) Homepage
    Adds Dinosaur: "Ask them [members of the younger generation] HOW the things work, and they have no idea. They are really riding on the backs of the 'old folks' like us that built the goodies they enjoy.""

    Okay, go explain how the Cotton Gin, steam locomotion, automobiles, electricity, the telephone system, the over-the-air broadcasting system you use to watch Wheel of Fortune, etc work. Oh, you can't? Then shut up and stop whining.
    • by woodsrunner (746751) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:33PM (#13678340) Journal
      Cotton Gin -- basically, pulls the cotton from the unwanted plant parts by pulling it through a filter with, and I haven't seen one since I was a kid, a brush of needles.

      Steam Locomotion -- easy: burn something to heat water resultant expansion pushes piston/turbine to make motion

      Similar to above except uses small amount of gas which is ingited with a spark, or diesel fuel which is ignited through pressure and the resultant locomotion is powered through the driveshaft to turn the wheels. All the accessories are run off of a belt system from the driveshaft: water pump to keep the motor cool, alternator to keep the battery charged and the sparkplugs popping...

      Electricity -- similar to above except instead of turning a wheel or drive shaft a magnet is spun inside a coil of wires and the electricity is produced and transmitted across a grid of wires and transformers to your home. Alternately, running water, nuclear fusion and wind can do this too.

      Telephone: it's basically like pulling the tail of a cat and at the other end the cat screams.

      over the air broadcast system -- same as above, but without the cat.

      Wheel of Fortune -- Vanna White is the oracle of the goddess Fortuna and the wheel intereprets your fate.

      any other smart questions whippersnapper?
  • by doombob (717921) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:11PM (#13678086) Homepage
    To tell you the truth, I've actually seen the knowledge difference the other way around. Many of the older "technology experts" I have known and met, had to learn their computer knowledge as the technology came out. They were true power users, able to maintain and upgrade emerging equipment when Moore's Law actually meant something. But because of my Computer Engineering Education, I've had training in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, and everything in between. The people I work for don't know about pipelining and load management, etc. Ask THEM how things work and you get a very accurate generalization, but ask some of my peers how things work and you could get a very boring two hour lecture on modern computing from processor to compiler and beyond.
  • by PReDiToR (687141) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:11PM (#13678095) Homepage Journal
    After all, SciFi writers have been predicting this for many years, haven't they?

    I have read many stories where there are generations of knowledge passed down to an elite class of society that are revered by the rest as demigods for their knowledge of how to keep machines running that provide the world with food, air, heating and all the comforts of life.
  • Riiight... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rallion (711805) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:15PM (#13678140) Journal
    And this older generation, they did everything themselves, from scratch! They started out by learning how to mine and refine metals, to create copper wire. Then they discovered electricity. They invented the resistor and the capacitor. They learned how to machine parts....

    Standing on the shoulders of those who came before is the definition of progress. So, please, unless you make your own wiring and screws and capacitors and what have you, shut up and stop whining.
  • by Morgalyn (605015) <slashmorg@gmail.com> on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:15PM (#13678146) Journal
    .. most people still don't know how a flushing toilet works. It's something most everyone uses every single day. It's a very simple machine. But apparently I was some sort of female plumber superhero in college because I knew how to fix it.

    Some people will just never become curious about the things they use from day to day. Others will. That's the difference.
    • by thc69 (98798) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:47PM (#13678496) Homepage Journal
      Why, that's silly. Everybody knows how a flush toilet works:

      1. User drops load into toilet
      2. User operates flush lever
      3. Water gizmos and channels create various bits of suction
      4. Shit clogs stupid low-flow toilet, lacking sufficient water to lubricate and push/pull it through
      5. User applies plunger, which fails to seal over odd-shaped low-flow orifice
      6. Unsealed plunger in angry user's hand, while not pulling shit back up, does manage to push shit through the toilet, resulting in complete flush.

      Optionally,
      7. Angry user in fit of rage operates flush lever again before step 6 is completed, resulting in shit raining down in basement onto clean laundry

      That's a sufficiently detailed technical explanation of the flush cycle. Tell me again why residential toilets can't go "WHOOOSH!!!!!" like commercial toilets?
  • by techno-vampire (666512) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:17PM (#13678160) Homepage
    Back when I was doing Tier II support for an ISP, I was almost the only senior there who actually knew what an IRQ was, and what the significance was. I once had another Tier II tech tell me he had no idea what they were, or why they were important. Maybe that's part of the reason he was no good with modem issues and I was the team's resident specialist in them. Today, even people who think they're techs have no understanding of things like IRQs, Base Addresses, FIFOs and so on. If they even know to check them, all they do is set them according to the cheat sheet, and assume the sheet's right. (I almost wrote "hope it's right," then realzied that most of them haven't a clue that the sheet might be wrong.) Not only don't they know anything about the inside workings, they don't want to know either. That's the scary part; they want to be ignorant, but consider themselves techs.
  • by Anita Coney (648748) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:21PM (#13678199) Homepage
    It's not like we actually PRODUCE anything over here. Let the Chinese figure out how things work while we enjoy all the benefits of US society and culture. Like reading a magazine about celebrities while we wait in the unemployment line.
  • by CyricZ (887944) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:23PM (#13678219)
    Indeed, I'm nearing 70, and have worked in the computer industry for a very long time. There have been a number of times that I have envied the young.

    One such time was at work, probably around 1995 or 1996. In order to increase the productivity at our firm we installed several Internet-enabled workstations for various managers, secretaries and workers.

    After a while we noticed some rather work-unrelated web sites showing up as being accessed from a particular workstation, which happened to be in the office of one of the young guys in finance. They were rather peculiar fetish sites. In any case, some of us in IT thought that we should alert this worker's higher-up to what was happening.

    It was decided that several of us would discuss the matter with him. So we headed up to his office, and knocked on his door, and opened it. Much to our surprise, he was there with a massive boner, ejaculate all over. He must have been in the middle of it when we knocked, because he was quickly trying to clean the mess off of the keyboard and his pants.

    It didn't bother me that he was whacking his cock in the office, or that he got his semen on the computer's keyboard. What bothered me was that he was able to get an erection, and I wasn't. So even though I knew far more about technology than he did, he was able to get a boner and I couldn't. I was trumped.

  • This is new?? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Reality Master 101 (179095) <RealityMaster101 ... NBSDom minus bsd> on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:24PM (#13678234) Homepage Journal
    As a "tech guy" for over 20 years, I'm amazed at how out of touch this "tech savy" generation really is. I realize that things may be better in some ways, but I have to agree with Techni-Veteran. Ask them HOW the things work, and they have no idea. They are really riding on the backs of the "old folks" like us that built the goodies they enjoy.

    As a "geezer" of 40 years old, most people have NEVER cared about "how" things work, they just want them to work. And thought I'm someone who loves to know how things work, it drives me crazy that technoids thing it's a problem that not everyone is passionate about how things are done. You know, not everyone's brain is wired the same way, and it's OKAY that not everyone is the same.

  • by ifwm (687373) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:26PM (#13678258) Journal
    GOOD!

    I'm a smart, technically savvy individual, who generally knows how ALL of his technology works. In fact, I make it a point to do so most of the time.

    And as long as that's the case, that means that I WANT the younger generation to be ignorant, so I can reap the rewards of their ignorance.

    As long as they're still ignorant, I'm still getting paid.
  • by Asprin (545477) <gsarnold AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:28PM (#13678286) Homepage Journal

    Ah, the joys of an object oriented universe. Nah, you don't need to understand the internals of *how* it works, you just need the API docs.

    Do programming courses in college still teach actual algorithms (prime number sieve, sorting, searching, etc.) or just how to program to APIs? I know OOP makes development easier precisely because you don't have to understand the object internals, but it's like a pocket calculator -- there are real lessons to be learned from putting it away and doing the work manually.

    Also, I realize that I'm picking on programmers here, but the truth is that IT mindshare eventually follows them, so the disinterested attitude that found its way into the ranks of the developers eventually got around to everyone else.

    I am also somewhat alarmed at how many IT people I have met who do not program, never have programmed and never plan to program.

    BTW, present company (probably) excepted, of course.
  • by p7 (245321) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:30PM (#13678307)
    This isn't anything new. 20 years ago teenage girls would spend all night on their families landline. They would also make radio mix tapes. The only difference is they can now take all of this stuff out where you can see them doing it. How many minutes you spend on your cell phone doesn't equate to tech culture. I don't use many minutes on my cell phone either, but it isn't because I am old school. It is because it is a tool for me, not a social outlet.
  • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:36PM (#13678375) Homepage Journal
    One thing I have noticed over time, is that fewer people (I'll leave age out of the equation) seem to understand how to tune a system or how to identify where the bottlenecks are. More frequently, I see sysadmin-types say that we need a new computer computer when what we need is more memory or faster I/O.
    • It's because system performance has got more complicated. Write-behind caching is good enough these days that more ram or just a software tune might sort an I/O bottleneck just as easily as a replacement drive. If it's a USB drive the problem might actually be the processor, depending on who makes your chipset. Don't even get me started on the number of different I/O modes available for a hard disc these days, just software changes can make a huge difference in speed.
  • Down with ageism. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pinback (80041) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @01:47PM (#13678482) Homepage Journal
    After racism and sexism die out, maybe we can go after ageism. Making arbitrary distinctions based on age is just as bad as doing so based on race or sex.
  • by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Thursday September 29, 2005 @02:05PM (#13678674) Journal
    It's simply not necessary for people to know how everything they use works. I know how to series-wind an AC motor, but there's no reason why everyone who wants to vacuum their floor should have to. It's called the social division of labor. I don't really know how to make clothes, operate a bottling plant, or weave a carpet, but there are people who do.

    Back in the days when most people lived on farms and made most of the things they used by themselves, we all lived in rather squalid conditions. Let's hear it for specialization!

    -jcr
  • by stimpleton (732392) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @02:13PM (#13678741)
    ....HOW the things work, and they have no idea. They are really riding on the backs of the 'old folks' like us that built the goodies they enjoy.

    Yeah? Well, in my day, on the way to my punchcard programming job, I'd have to walk to work in 6 feet of snow, in my bare feet, only stopping to warm them in fresh cow-pats along the way!

    • You spoiled kids, getting everything handed to you on a silver platter. Punchcards? HA! A Luxury! We had to program the computer by physical reconfiguration. And only six miles in the snow? I had to walk from Princeton, NJ clear to Boston, MA in the snow, up hill both ways, with no shoes!
  • by Yaztromo (655250) <yaztromo@mac. c o m> on Thursday September 29, 2005 @02:20PM (#13678796) Homepage Journal

    I have to admit, I do wonder somewhat if todays youth is at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts of computing.

    I was fortunate. I grew up in the generation where having a computer in your home was possible, with devices like the Apple II, Commodore VIC-20 (or 64) or original IBM PC (and later PC XT) weren't completely outside the purchasing ability of your typical middle-class income family.

    For this, I count myself lucky. The level of complexity was significantly lower in some regards (the hardware and software didn't do anywhere near as much as a system can do today), however to actually use those systems you typically had to get to know the overall system better.

    Today, if you can move a pointing device, you can use a computer. This is a huge step forward in usability and productivity over the old days, but it can also seductively mask the overall complexity inherent in the system. You don't need to know how to POKE a memory location to change the colour of your display's background -- a few simple clicks will do it for you.

    By also having more limited possibilities way-back-when, it was somewhat easier to play around with the system, because there were a certain set of delineations as to what was and wasn't possible. Advances in both raw processing power and standard system features/capabilities means that there are so many more facets that jump at you at once, I can imagine it would be hard to figure out where to start just writing a basic program -- there is a huge explosion of options now which simply didn't exist back then. We didn't have half a dozen (or more) APIs per platform to do something, so one didn't have to waste a lot of time trying to figure out which API is best for the task at hand. You didn't have a choice, so you used what was available. And things like audio and video were severely limited by the hardwares capabilities.

    There is also the fact that because storage is now cheap, and applications are expected to be more complicated, that the barriers to entry in terms of playing with source code have risen quite a bit. Gone are the days where, because storage was so expensive, you'd buy a book or a magazine with source code listings in it. I remember typing some of these things in, and playing around with them while I was doing so. It was very educational. But such facilities don't really exist today. Magazines can cheaply include a CD-ROM, and the most common platform out there doesn't have any sort of built-in interpreter that you can just type instructions into and play around with like the old systems did (even if it was BASIC).

    Now as a user, I dont want to go back to those days. They're dead and gone for a good reason. But just as we give kids toy hammers and cars to play with to grasp certain concepts before we give them a real hammer or let them drive a real car, we don't seem to have a similar sort of system for learning computer software development. We seem to lack any good, common development environments for the young to learn programming concepts.

    I started coding when I was 10 -- a relatively common age for my generation. But this sort of thing doesn't seem to happen anymore.

    Now on the other side of things, todays 10 year old is more savvy in the way of telecommunications. They can do research on topics quickly and easily on the Internet, whereas the ability to do so when I was 10 simply didn't exist. So I don't think it's fair to say that todays youth are less tech savvy in general -- they have skills which we didn't (and many of whom in my generation still don't) possess. But I do think they are at a certain disadvantage when it comes to programming, if only because the barriers to entry have risen substantially (not to mention the fact that there are so many other cool distractions now that didn't exist back then).

    Yaz.

  • by gelfling (6534) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @02:22PM (#13678807) Homepage Journal
    "They" don't know shit about how their own technology works. They don't care. That's the real divide; you do.

    And in all honesty I'm not sure I'm going to care that much about Vista for example. When it breaks it will do whatever it does to recover itself, or not, or I'll go out and buy another 350 dollar e Machine. Big whoop - how many hours of your time is it worth to mess with it?

    I suppose I could dink with innards of my MP3 player and solder in a new 2 dollar capacitor or something. But probably not. Probably I'll just toss it in the trash.
  • This reminds me... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cytlid (95255) * on Thursday September 29, 2005 @02:23PM (#13678814)
    ... of some of the fantastic conversations I've had with my stepson. At first I was a little put off. But now I'm kinda fascinated by his generations' point of view.

      He grew up on nintendo. I grew up on Commodore 64. He thinks AIM is a killer communication app, for me it's IRC (for customers where I work it's email). We had interesting conversations about several things... we had a disagreement on how a Tivo works. I basically said ... uh you can make one of those with a linux box, it's a computer that saves video data to a hard disk, and that disk only has so much capacity. When the Nintendo DS came out, he was thrilled about this new "802.11 technology from Broadcom" ... I said ... like the Linux based Linksys router we have, the one I've customized firmware for? At that point we've had the router for a few years.

      The point shouldn't be who's right and who's wrong ... or who knows what and who knows "HOW" things work. But we can learn from each other.

      At some point, I had to stop and realize... wait, he's just growing up in a different world than I did. So now, it's really cool. Our individual experiences compliment each other. He brought home some C++ homework, and I said ... look, you can compile this on linux by changing one line!

      I'm an admin for a local internet provider and we do some connections for local colleges. I don't talk to the students there all that often, but when I do, I find it easier now.

      You're not better than a younger generation because you understand different things than they do. When you start to understand them, you're better than you were.
  • by nightsweat (604367) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @02:27PM (#13678856)
    But this is the weakest story I've ever seen on Slashdot.
  • by BobaFett (93158) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @03:09PM (#13679274) Homepage
    We're becoming specialists. The old geezer knows how tech works and the kids don't? Ask an even older geezer who knows how several different areas of tech work. Do you know how to make gunpowder or rubber, how to build an elecric generator, and how the telephone works too? What about how to saddle a horse? Every next generation is more specialized than the previous one, and for every previous generation the things they don't know "are just there" and things they do know are "basic education".

    Imagine a thought experiment: a modern man, a well educated one, is transported back in time, where the local population believes him to be a god, so he has endless supply of labor, but he lost the entire technological base and must rebuild it from scratch.

    How many different people would it take to reconstruct the techology of the age they were taking from? I would not be surprised if one man from 1500's knew enough to rebuild his entire technology from ground up. In 1800 there were scientists who worked in a good many of the available areas of science, may be half a dozen of those could reconstruct the entire scientific and technological knowledge of their civilization. How many we would need now? How many of the best-educated modern humans would need to come together to build a car or an airplane using only what's in their heads, no books, no libraries, nobody else to ask, only them and endless unskilled labor?
  • by pgnas (749325) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @03:20PM (#13679384) Journal
    "...HOW the things work, and they have no idea. They are really riding on the backs of the 'old folks' like us that built the goodies they enjoy"

    I find this comment interesting, while it is somewhat accurate, there just may be more to it.

    The 'Old folks' spent their time building a framework, a base, if you will. The young techies need not expend energy understanding how the framework was put together, rather they expend their energy building on the results.

    Lets just go back a little ways... I find it somewhat interesting that some institutions of higher learning still require HTML programing... There are so many front ends for HTML development, that I would guess that it would be counter-productive to write straight HTML in a text editor...

    "Well, thats riduculous, this breeds lazy coders who don't understand what they are doing, and can't troubleshoot the problems because they don't know what they are looking at"

    I would somewhat agree with this philosephy, however, at some point it does become counter-productive to do things "the old fashioned way".

    I beleive that in order to move into the future, you must build on the past, use the tools developed in the past and move to the next level.

    In addition to all of this with regards to "riding the backs of old folks like us..", I got news for the "old folks", they rode over your backs a long time ago, the people that you are seeing in those lines are riding the backs of the people who rode over your backs 5 years ago....

    Technology is moving just that fast...
  • by Duncan3 (10537) on Thursday September 29, 2005 @04:04PM (#13679738) Homepage
    The young are great for working 12 hours a day on implementing stuff, but lack the experience to know WHAT to spend that time on. How many IM clients in sourceforge? And they are dirt cheap.

    The old have the experience to design reliable things that do things people actually want, but lack the energy to work 12 hours a day. So many go home to their "lives". And we need our naps.

    Solution: older designers, younger workers. Every field other then technology figured this out thousands of years ago. One of these years we'll figure it out too, probably right after AI works and noone needs to write code anymore.

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