Building Caves of Steel

3 Nov

asimov_1.jpgIs Isaac going to get the last laugh after all?

When I was younger I just devoured the novels of Isaac Asimov. I had absolutely no intention at that time of following a career in IT and immersed myself in the sociological nightmares he envisioned computer technology would bestow on us. In Asimov’s future computers were humungous behemoths, with only a tiny elite class of programmers able to communicate with them. They were housed in huge complexes and about as sparse as rhinos (the computers, not the programmers). But these mighty giants ran planets. Humans had become completely reliant on computers for administering every facet of their lives. The more people were able to use dumb terminals to communicate and manage their needs, the less need there was for them to interact face to face, in person. At the extreme, societies evolved where individuals lived separated by vast distances, utterly repelled by the thought of close proximity with each other. Hmmmmm.

Throughout the 80s and 90s whilst forging a career in IT I had many a little chuckle at old Isaac’s naivety and often wondered what he made of the miniaturisation and accessibility of technology as I saw it developing. Rather than an elite core of specialists we were all programming, developing and using computer technology, we were all experts. The digital natives were coming and soon we would be fighting for our jobs with people who thought nothing of whipping up an online business, cashing in for millions and retiring to some beachside paradise to dream up the next big online money spinner. Yes the WWW was changing everything and we antiques were struggling to keep afloat. Hmmmmm.

A couple of years ago I tried to get my kids interested in web design. Utter waste of time, it’s all point and click now so why would they spend precious time fiddling with GoLive when there’s template-a-go-go out there online. It doesn’t take much effort these days to do some pretty fab things, be it publishing a website or writing a program, it’s all downloadable and usually free. Someone else has always already done the hard bit and I just can’t get the kids even remotely interested in having a go at the hard bit. I wonder what the average age of the widget developer is…. Anyway, consider this Scratching that’s going on in my house. I haven’t even looked at Scratch myself to be honest, I’m doing a bit of book learning at the moment, but as far as I can tell it’s an object oriented programming language. At least I hope it is as that’s what I tasked MrW to hunt down for him! I’ve made a point of not getting involved as I don’t want to taint how he uses this tool with my ancient programme development cycles and my need to design before I code (Munkeeb seems to hold it all in his head and code with the flow). When MrW suggested Munkeeb teach a groups of kids in the US how to use Scratch I zipped it pronto. Munkeeb isn’t known for his outgoing personality or self-confidence and the thought of him floundering through this just terrified me. But by all accounts he did a good job. Which, with all due respect to my son, got me wondering… how? Was it the distance and the impersonality of it all? Did not being there in person make is easier? What are the implications for a generation who find it easy (perhaps even easier) to interact from a distance? Even if Isaac got the technology bit wrong, perhaps he was more accurate with the social evolution than I’ve given him credit for. Is it possible that communications technology could engender physical isolation and a make us ever more reluctant to interact with those around us in favour of virtual companions? Hmmmmm.


2 Responses to “Building Caves of Steel”

  1. Mr W November 13, 2007 at 2:06 am #

    I find the whole question of online linking fascinating… I think it’s a bit like speaking to someone on the phone. We adopt a “phone voice” which isn’t really like our real life voice, maybe we have an ‘online voice’ as well?

    What I can add is that Munkeeb was very good in his explanations… and remarkably patient, though he did want to rush things as if we had instantaneous linking rather than the slight delay which was the reality… Maybe that’s the difference… as the connections become closer to instant, the connections and relationships become more fluent and we no longer have to adopt a ‘phone voice’?


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