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The Internet

How the Internet Boom Harms Society 332

Most of my friends work either directly on the Internet or in some sort of Internet-related computer field. The Internet is the economic engine driving the curent "long boom" wave of American prosperity, and that wave is starting to spread all over the world. But now and then I wonder if this is such a good thing, and if we might all be better off if the Internet wasn't such an economic juggernaut. (Click Below for more idle speculation.)

There's a man I know who is one of the finest Unix and Linux software engineers you'd ever want to meet. He works for one of the big computer manufacturers, from his house, on his own schedule. He is no obsessed computer loner, but a hearty family fellow who lives in a sprawling suburban home with his loving wife and teenage children. Let's call him "Ron."

Ron is a tinkerer, the kind of "true hacker" who longs to improve every machine he meets. If Ron wasn't earning an excellent living in the computer industry, he'd turn his talents elsewhere and probably meet with similar success. When I look at him, sometimes I wonder what he would have been like if he'd been born 100 years earlier. In my mind's eye I picture him running a farm equipment repair service in a small Wisconsin town, circa 1899, happily modifying his neighbors' threshers and steam tractors so that they'd perform better than when they left the factory.

If the Internet and the computer infrastructure behind it weren't growing so rapidly, and feeding Ron and his family so well, he might have drifted into some other field. Perhaps he'd be designing more efficient Diesel fuel injection systems that would help cut air pollution or inexpensive Artesian well pumps that could help bring marginal land under cultivation.

Now think of all those "If cars were built by Microsoft" and "If General Motors built computers" jokes. Imagine where the automobile business would be today if the entrepreneurs who run Silicon Valley had decided to build cars instead of computers. By now we'd probably all be driving vehicles powered by fuel cells or 100 MPG hybrid gas/electric motors, and the U.S. would dominate the world's automotive industry instead of playing constant catch-up.

If the same spirit that drove the growth of Apple and Oracle and 3Com had been put into space transportation, we might have permanent colonies on the moon by now. We might even be ready to launch human expeditions to some of the more interesting asteroids.

Imagine how much better life in third-world countries would be if just a fraction of the intelligence and energy that have gone into building the Internet had been applied to subsistance-level agriculture. Or if some of the high-ability, high-concept managers who have been drawn to Internet and computer businesses had gone into politics. I don't think there would be nearly as much hunger and misery in the world if so much talent hadn't been sucked into computers and the Internet.

This is all just speculation, no more valid than an "alternate history" science fiction novel.

But I wonder, I really do, what the world would be like today if the Internet was not such an overriding factor in it. And then I remember that the Internet is really not a big deal; it's just a toy for the few of us who are so rich that we don't worry about finding food to eat. In a global context, nothing on the Internet -- not even Slashdot -- is important enough to be worth a glance.

I suppose what bothers me is something I've never heard put quite this way: the "Internet Brain Drain." If all the best and brightest minds are attracted to Internet-based industries, that means the rest of the world is being run by second-raters. And that's scary.

Yesterday I had a phone conversation with a highly-placed campaign official for one of the major U.S. Presidential candidates. (Which one doesn't matter; they're all about the same.) This guy could easily end up as a top-tier White House staffer if his man wins. And compared to most of the people I come in contact with online, he simply wasn't very bright.

I don't think I'm exactly brilliant myself, but I don't presume to think I'm capable of making decisions that affect millions of people. Then I meet some of the people at the top end of the (U.S.) political game, and I realize that I wouldn't trust most of them to drive my limo because I'd be afraid that they'd get lost. And that's really scary.

I have come to believe that the average computer industry person is much brighter and more capable than the average modern American political person -- which is not only scary, but rather depressing.

Consider Sun CEO Scott McNealy. Like him or not, you've got to admit that the man is full of vitality and imagination. Put him on a debate platform with the current bunch of Presidential candidates and he'd eat them alive.

I'll stop with the analogies now. You get the idea.

I believe the Internet, and computers in general, are both worthwhile and necessary. It's when we think of them as ends in themselves that we go wrong. The Internet doesn't create ideas; it's merely a tool that helps distribute them and makes collaborative thinking easier. Computers do no original thinking; they merely help human thinkers work more efficiently.

The talents that make a good programmer could be applied just as well in many other fields, from politics to agricultural development to civil engineering.

Right now, the Internet is the equivalent of a world-wide boomtown. Booms always end. When they do, the people who participated in them settle down and do other things. The Internet boom will end, just like all the others. When it does, infrastructure development will continue, software will still get written, and Web sites will still be made, but not at today's frenetic pace. "Information Economy" skills will become common and will no longer command a premium price -- except for a very, very few people at the top end.

So what are you going to do when this change comes? Have you chosen a "next field" yet? Have you thought about it at all? Do you ever wonder what you'd be doing with yourself if we had no Internet and no personal computers?

After some of the sad contacts I've had with political people (which I'll save for another story on another day), I hope at least a few of you decide to leave computer work and go into politics.

As I said earlier, This is all just speculation, no more valid than an "alternate history" science fiction novel.

But I can dream, can't I?

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How the Internet Boom Harms Society

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Right on, very well said; I think what you are describing is a kind of guilt complex that IT folks, who are at the top, often feel when they realize how meaningless it all is (in a global context), and yet have reaped such huge financial rewards. The obvious next step to relieve this guilt is philanthropy; lots of dollars going to good causes in the Seattle area, Mr. G. himself is quite a donor (let's leave aside for the moment the conspiracy theories about "why" Mr. G is so generous); look at the Woz and what he did in the 80's. Basically I think there are enough good people in our industry who, after they get rich on this Internet boom, will do some good things with their time, talents, and money.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    There are many obvious advantages of the Internet and the Internet Boom; I won't go into them here, but if you don't agree with me and you're reading this, something's wrong.

    So what we're talking about is the large number of businesses that make a living off of something that's not at all or only marginally useful to the world at large. For example, streaming video may very well be useful; an eighteenth competing streaming video format is probably not useful, except to the people who hope to make money off of it. And therein lies the problem-- most of the "useless" Internet companies can make a decent bit of cash creating a niche product and selling to a rich company. The argument, then, would be that people going to work for these companies might otherwise have done something useful, like creating those 100 MPG engines. Another argument might be that a niche company might have more "geek appeal", allowing a good amount of hacking, whereas the "useful" internet companies might require some more mundane work at times.

    Really, though, what we see as the problem here is not that people wanted to do something really revolutionary, like make the 100 MPG engine, and then didn't because of the Internet Boom. I'm going to suggest that people who follow the big money in the Internet Boom, over the "contributing to the world" career path, would also do so were the Internet not around. Not only that, but with the amount of "geek jobs" so much lower, many of these positions wouldn't pay as well, leaving people following the money to do things like work on concealing oil spills at Exxon, or chemical weapons for the U.S. government.

    People who have been drawn to the Internet and still want to contribute to the world at large will have no difficulty doing so. The Internet is obviously revolutionary itself, and has in fact increased everyone's opportunity to do something big to change the world. The Internet Brain Drain is nothing that wouldn't have happened through the draw of money elsewhere. This is capitalism, remember? If people had followed the money, sans Internet, there's no great chance it would've been to make 100 MPG engines.

  • Being a consultant I get to see a lot of different companies.

    Two things are readily apparent to me:

    1) There are a LOT of stupid people doing computer programming, systems engineering, and ESPECIALLY, end-user support.

    2) Politics are no better in IT than any other part of business and often worse.

    Compared to when this country was formed, the world is a much more diversified place now and there are far more people involved in politcs than ever before.

    By simple statistics, this means that it is far more likely, with a larger more diluted pool of candidates, that more people of less-than-stellar intellect will be in positions of power in politics, because more of the really bright people are now involved in business.

    If there is anywhere that the Internet Brain Drain has hurt us, it is in the loss of all these bright minds being involved in corporate computing. With the internet being such a lure for big money and fame, it is hard to find good people who will actually do the boring hard work necessary to make systems that run the day-in and day-out functions of a company.

    In more than one case, I've seen one good person dragging around the weight of several people of questionable intellect and moral character because the company couldn't fine better candidates for what it could afford to pay.

    On the other hand... Having a lot of idiots in corporate IT is great for the consulting business.... And I have to LOVE the current focus on short-term profit by upper management. I get more work fixing mistakes made by idiots in under funded and under staffed projects than pretty much any other source.

    In any other field this degree of short cutting and incompetence would be criminal.

    It's like having two guys from the lumberyard try to build your corporate HQ in 3 months for $100,000, instead of hiring an architect and a team of experts to do it right.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If you want free-time, become a hunter-gatherer. Every advance since then has decreased the amount of free-time available to devote your own pursuits. They spent about 10 hrs/week in survival activities, most people are working more tahn 60 hrs, and often (for poorer people) several jobs.

    It's *not* about free-time, that's a line they try and sell you. It's about the amount of time they can convince you to give up voluntarily.

    -- Ender, Duke of URL.
  • Keep in mind that rapidly developing technology lowers the barriers to entry. Ask yourself why there are so many high school graduates/college dropouts/non-credentialed individuals doing important things and getting paid important bucks in internet and computer-related businesses today. One answer is that rapid technological change puts a premium on people who can demonstrate the ability to do the job, instead of those who have the right degree/certification/license. I find a parallel to engineering 175 years ago, when many of the people responsible for major developments had all sorts of non-scientific backgrounds.

    However, such a situation is unstable: Just as we have a lot of buggy software today, 175 years ago there were a lot of bridges that fell down and boilers that blew up. And as the technology stablilzed (and as more was learned about engineering), it became easier to recognize good (and bad) design and teach design principles, and (because bridges that fall down and boilers that blow up kill people) it was seen to be a Good Thing to develop methods to certify that people who were calling themselves engineers were really competent at engineering.

    Now, look at the computer/internet business today. Rapidly proliferating technologies and a shortage of competent people (combined with low cost of entry and no regulatory barriers) mean that anyone with the interest, ambition, and skill set can get into the business and find customers/get a job/set up a website. Many of these people are competent, but many are not. And as computers and the net become more important to more (non-technical) people, there will be more pressure to develop credentialing processes to help the non-technical tell the competent from the frauds. We already have Microsoft and Novell "certifying" people, and there have been calls on this forum for some sort of "programmers guild/union". Such efforts work for "stable" technologies (i.e., Netware), but aren't useful for the new (there aren't that many CompSci graduates with specialties in Java around today because the Java hasn't been around long enough).

    But as soon as technological advancement slows, the credentialing process will catch up. And then the barriers start going up. And eventually, it won't matter how smart/knowledgable/competent you are, you'll still have to get the right paper/jump through the right hoops/serve the right apprenticeship to work in your field of interest.

    And then the smart geeks who don't have the patience to play the game will just have to go somewhere else.

  • This guy could easily end up as a top-tier White House staffer if his man wins. And compared to most of the people I come in contact with online, he simply wasn't very bright.

    Thanks for illustrating the ugliest artifact of the "internet revolution" -- growing egomania and coldheartedness, and an obsession with "brightness" as a determiner of a persons worth or ability. This is seen in the moral bankrupting of the intellectual elite as the corrupting forces of money, power, and egotism lead to acceptance of the comfortable belief that IQ represents a persons principal worth to a society. Now, formerly nice kids have become insufferable snobs who invalidate 99% of the population as worthless subhuman automatons who are contemptuously tolerated because they need a wage slave to bring them their pizza. If they are aware at all of the truism that "an unhealthy society is an unhappy society for all", they address this by planning to live in gated communities and by personal purchase of weapons rather than committing any of their resources to the sick society. This is just as ugly and damaging as the attitudes of yuppies in the middle 80's. It's actually uglier, because while the yuppies were unapologetically crass, the new technophile is righteous and egotistical and is morally bankrupt -- doesn't see any moral obligation to give back to society. The result is a growing class divide, exemplified by our school systems -- bright teachers going to private prep schools to teach children of the intellectual elite, while the impoverished kids who need extra help get a crummy education. And the intellectual elite who in the pre-internet era tended to be left leaning socialists, now rationalize that this is somehow a fair and just example of darwinism in action.In reality, it is a brutal example of a society that is failing the majority of it's members due to abdication of responsibility of the intellectual elite.

    As the saying goes, it takes all kinds. Creativity, athletic ability, hard work, interpersonal skills, and humanist values are often more important than IQ. Technology will change the landscape significantly but it won't change the humanitarian need for people of all levels to participate and come together to make society better. If the elite ignore this, they will eventually be overthrown in a populist revolution.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    When you get down to it everything is meaniningless. Food, shelter, beauty it's all bunk.

    Allowing for that the Internet can be of enormous help to third world countries. Just email and some free software can cut costs fantastically. The Brazilian government for one saves at least tens of thousands of dollars a year sending non-essential communications to foreign embassies by email instead of private commercial services. Forms can be sent via .pdf or .doc files quickly and cheaply. This is but one use in one branch of one government.

    There is much that even obsolete equipment can do for the poorest countries. I would not be so quick to dismiss the Internet as a rich country toy.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    You make many good points.

    More likely he is just upset because of the time he wasted on his degree.

    I see many advertisements for IT personnel requiring a degree.

    That means they don't care whether you are intelligent, they only care about the piece of paper. Do you want to be working around people like that?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    While a post to Slashdot about the supposed elite nature of software developers is a little like politicians debating whether or not to give themselves pay raises, I'd like to suggest two errors in this argument:

    1) Progress in developing the Internet is easier than progress in any other field. The Internet is 'contrived' and entirely invented; as such it is not constrained by physical or natural boundaries. Progress in the field comes in the form of inventions. To say that software developers could bring about a renaissance in, say, aircraft design, if they only devoted their attention to this field neglects the fact that there may be hard boundaries in aircraft design that have already been reached, like strength of metals for airframes or efficiencies of engines.

    2) Tremendous progress is being made in other fields by the 'second-raters'. Democracy and open markets are expanding, population growth is slowing, fewer conflicts are being ignored by the international community. The humanities and social sciences are receiving their fair share of bright people, only we software developers sometimes do a poor job of recognizing different forms of intelligence, and are ill-informed about progress outside our field. Try the world outside Slashdot: I hear the graphics are great!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 31, 1999 @11:20AM (#1574147)
    "Well the thing that local companies still have over internet delivery is service."

    That's the point, the local companies don't have the service. The local computer companies are Windows only, and if I ask for Linux stuff the employees spit at me. Without internet ordering, it's winmodems, winprinters, winnetwork cards, winonly, andifyoudon'tlikeityou'reanidiot.

    I had two technology vendors go punky on me. One sold ink for a high speed duplicator and without notice, withdrew from the market. It took 10 minutes to listen to their tale of woe, and 5 minutes to find a replacement vendor over the internet. The other CASS certified mailing lists, the technology ran away from them, and they can't deliver any more. I'll replace them, too.

    The internet has changed the way I do business. It's allowed me to up my standards for vendors. A message to local vendors: Up yours.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 31, 1999 @01:25PM (#1574148)
    A Nigerian snail farmer (who made all of $450 last year) keeps hearing about this internet thing on the radio (his neighbour's radio to be precise) and how useful it is and all. He writes to BBC African service, his letter reads something like this "You keep talking about how useful the Internet is . But I want to know about how to improve my snail farm. Can this internet help me?". Reporter goes off, opens her browser, navigates to a few search engines and types "snail farming", clicks enter and voila, lots of hits. She begins printing, well, she has to refill the office printer a couple of times (lots of documents from US Agriculture Dept, FDA etc and even, it turns out, research done by some crop scientists in the University of Ife, Nigeria that might be very relevant to the farmer).

    Net result: reporter has a half-hour feature for her weekly comment program, the farmer after the 2 weeks for his care package to arrive by air mail, might have a few leads to improve his farm. Oh and yet another "Internet is a good thing" anecdote for you.

    If the decades of research on farming techniques can be harnessed this easily, the Internet can't be ignored.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 31, 1999 @05:54PM (#1574149)
    Let me say this again:

    The starvation problem in the world is NOT caused by lack of knowledge of farming techniques. It IS caused by uneven distribution. This uneven distribution is caused by political reasons.

    The article is laughable.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:41AM (#1574150)
    How do we know that the people in agriculture for instance AREN'T just as smart as computer people? Does it just seem that way because the whole geek culture has created a very self-congratulatory tiny world of people going "oh man, noone is smarter than ______! That was a brilliant thing he did"? There are tons of extremely brilliant people out there in many fields doing all sorts of productive things, and I think to discount them all (actually in this case to FORGET about them all) because they don't get talked about in the very tight-knit insular media outlets that most Slashdot readers read is being pretty short-sighted. The politics thing is the absolute WORST comparison you could make too. Noone thinks people in politics are smart! I understand that Robin hangs out with them apparently so they're a good point of reference for him, but they are just a bad bad bad thing to bring into this at all! Try using doctors, or even agriculturists, or anything other than politicians. They're not smart, everyone knows it, everyone accepts it, bad bad example.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:33AM (#1574151)
    The internet will adapt to serve society, NOT the other way around.

    I disagree. Society will adapt to the `net, and in doing so it will change in fundamental ways, both politically and on a personal level. I expect there will be both good effects and bad ones.

    The printing press enabled the Protestant Reformation, the rise of the nation-state, widespread literacy, and the rise of the middle class. These were massive political and personal shifts in Western civilization. IMHO the `net is a bigger advance than the printing press, and we should prepare for the changes they will cause.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:46AM (#1574152)
    >I believe that in ten years, everything that
    >programmers do now will be done by programs.

    I recall hearing this prediction about 10 years
    ago, just before I went to college. Some said it would be AI (a hot research topic at in those days), others (aptly) predicted rapid application development languages. In either case, "by the time you hit the workforce" (over 6 years ago) the job market for programmers wasn't going to be so hot.

    I majored in EE, because I was a bit bored with programming. Somewhere in the Spring of 1990, a large number of people were predicting the end of virtually all analog circuit design. Everything in the world was going to be digital signal processing, and the A/D and D/A conversion process was supposed to be a commodity (even though much active research in sigma-delta conversion was just begining at the time). The "analog is dead" story had a lot of appeal to my peers, who had an easier time with gates than opamps, but I went ahead and focused on analog circuits anyways... yet again a prediction of the future tech job market that turned out to be false.

    While I'm at it, somewhere along the line a number of people believed that GaAs semiconductors would "take over" the world of mircoprocessors and virtually all digital circuitry.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 31, 1999 @09:19AM (#1574153)
    The great management outplacement/firings occured in the 80s and 90s because one hotshot with a spreadsheet could collect, collate, and report on data that normally took dozens of middle managers and their secretaries to do.

    Local, that is township, village, and small city gov't, is the equivalent of corporate middle management. At least in MI, it no longer even collects property taxes. The state govt hands the local level a list of qualified candidates from which to hire its police, fire, and ambulance staff. It even pre-qualifies who is allowed to run for school board or sheriff. Road maintenance is about to be taken by the state. I can't figure out what local govt does anymore.

    The local businesses are being wiped out. OfficeMax moved in with its internet ordering system. Post your order to the web, the truck drops it off the next day. Place an order for network stuff with CDW in the early AM, have it sitting in your porch that evening. No local business can do that.

    Three layers of govt - at the federal, state, and local levels - are just no longer needed. The local level is being obsoleted. Local govt is a legislative construct of state legislatures, and it isn't needed anymore.

    Just watch, in ten years, most of these little fiefdoms will disappear. All the mosquito control districts, fire protection districts, water and sewage, all of this can be better managed at the state capital with internet technology. Everything will be submitted via web form.

    It's only a turf battle, not some moralistic crusade of evil vs good.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 31, 1999 @09:23AM (#1574154)
    True, the `net is just chips and wires and fiber. Just like a printing press is just type and wood and metal. The fact that people could suddenly *use* a printing press to disseminate knowledge much more easily meant that they could publicise their religious views more easily. It meant that it was worthwhile for the average citizen to become literate, because there was a chance he could actually find something to read. The direct and indirect consequenses of this new ability transformed society; in the course of this adaptation, wars were fought and people were killed.

    Likewise, the ability for the average citizen to buy a computer, connect to the `net, and read publish and discuss in ways that were previously impossible will require changes to society. Old institutions will become irrelevant; new ones will have to be invented. I think our society has only begun to adapt to the new computer and network technology we already have.

    Certainly it is people who did and will do all this. Society itself is people; how can a society do anything without the involvement of people? I don't understand your ire.

  • And then I remember that the Internet is really not a big deal; it's just a toy for the few of us who are so rich that we don't worry about finding food to eat.

    Agreed. IMHO all this computer stuff is mostly B.S., with one very important exception: technologies for the handicapped. What all of us have seen on TV, Steven Hawkings (sp.?) communicating and doing work despite it all, is duplicated every day on a very large scale by other people with handicaps. Oops, challenges.

    The rest of this Internet stuff is largely SSDD. Unless of course you live in a repression land and you value any communications lifeline to the world outside.

    So I guess my point is .. that the Internet has the potential to be a Great Equalizer, in more ways than one ?

    I hope the medium is the message, because the content is 95% crap !

  • Imagine how much better life in third-world countries would be if just a fraction of the intelligence and energy that have gone into building the Internet had been applied to subsistance-level agriculture. Or if some of the high-ability, high-concept managers who have been drawn to Internet and computer businesses had gone into politics. I don't think there would be nearly as much hunger and misery in the world if so much talent hadn't been sucked into computers and the Internet.

    Of course, this just assumes that life in third-world countries is bad supposedly because they haven't had enough help from the first world countries.

    First of all, the wealth of the "first-world" nations is based on centuries of economic exploitation of the third world.

    Second, you might be amazed at how much talent and dedication has gone from first world institutions into keeping the third world poor. (Think of the International Monetary Fund, if you want a contemporary example.)

    And, for all the talent that was "sucked into the Internet". The Internet was developed as a military defensive system; the goal in its design was further strenghten the US industrio-military complex, so that the US can conduct its exploitative economic practices around the world.

    I think you need to read more about the relation between the first world and the third world, Roblimo. This idea of "these poor starving people in third world countries, they need our help so they don't starve" is absolutely fscking misleading. It's more like, "these hard-working poor foreigners in third world countries, we need to stop from screwing them over at every chance."


  • Many third world countries suffer, not because of the lack of farming (they are lacking, but many countries suppliment their crops with food) but from inept and corrupt governments.

    Inept and corrupt governments which more frequently than not receive diplomatic, economic and military backing from first world countries with economic interests in the country.

    As for the "lack of farming": it is well known that International Monetary Fund Structural Adjustment Programs (which are a way for such countries to get economic help) tend to have a terrible effect on local agriculture. Governments accepting an IMF SAP are not allowed to subsidize farming, and cannot put significant tariffs on food imports. The result is that local farmers cannot compete with subsidized agricultural goods from other countries, like the US.


  • While I think Roblimo's article is interesting, I don't buy into his idea that people making big advancements in computer science would also be making equivalently amazing advancements in other fields.

    Computer science is only 60 years old, making it the youngest of the engineering disciplines. Like a young child, its rate of learning and growth is absolutely unbelievable. However, as the basic infrastructure is layed down, the rate of growth slows. That's because the early advancements are simpler (though no less important) than the later, more complicated advancements. Expecting that other, more mature, industries can experience the same kind of growth as computer science is not realistic.

    Another thing to consider is the flexibility of the medium. Maybe it's just my bias, but the aspect of computers that attract me (and many of my computer geek friends) most is the lack of limitations with computers. Especially given the increase in computer hardware (caused by the growth of modern electronics, a field who history has gone hand-in-hand with computer science), more and more the limits on software are human imagination. I just can't see mechanical engineering or agriculture experiencing the same kind of boom because doing unique and amazing things is so much harder to do in the real, physical world. However, digital castles can be suspended quite easily in virtual air.

    I think the "Information Revolution" (as much as I am sick of that term, it is the most accurate) happened because of the special nature of information, not because a bunch of smart people happened to magically appear on Earth in the latter half of the decade. The smart people have always been around.

  • Some good points, Roblimo, BUT:

    (a) We are nowhere near the end of the Internet explosion; a reasonable argument can be made that we are just starting out.

    (b) There is always another interesting technology / trend to jump onto [nanotech, VR, space, AI, genetics etc.]

    (c) The collaborative facilities / ease of information dissemination of the Internet is likely to lead to an even greater explosion in knowledge / research

    I'd agree that we (the "First World") entering a post-industrial age (Toffler's "The Third Wave" still makes decent reading) but I believe we are heading for even greater technological progress.

    Nanotech has the potential to make current socio/economic problems dissapear (ref. food replicators, "factory" nano vats for consumer goods etc.) that will probably make current resource/energy limited consumption society obsolete - but it will bring its own problems: what do you do with a planet full of immortals?

  • I think there's a sense in which devising systems to allow and facilitate collaborative human thought is the most worthwhile activity possible.

    I mean, I think I would rather see a project to end global poverty than satellite comms for all, but insofar as the priorities of those with power are screwed up (strangely, in favour of those with power), our ability to do something about those priorities rests on our ability to work together and think together, and in that way I think that the work that gets done by free software authors to bring computing and connectivity to the masses does more towards such lofty ends than any ten dollar donation to UNICEF.

    And once we have abolished hunger, and war, and homelessness ... what shall we do to entertain ourselves? Sure, there's plenty of places to explore, but geography (or space exploration) has value in the same way that metallurgy or computer science has value: it's all room for discovery, and food for the mind. Comms technology doesn't just provide such mind food: it multiplies it six billionfold. More if you take into account the cross-pollination effects it allows.

    So, I agree that all these inflated IPOs are ridiculous, but I couldn't be further from the opinion that fiddling with the Net necessarily means ignoring any sort of "real issues" that need tackling: facilitating our ability to tackle them is what's needed most of all.
  • by Masem ( 1171 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:15AM (#1574174)
    One example provided is the "If Microsoft Built Cars" joke. There is something significantly different about IT from any other major industry out there today or 100 yrs ago. It's the one area where you can do the least physical labor to obtain the most 'reward' from it.

    Sure, IT people face long hours and underpaid salaries, but most of this time is spent in front of a computer typing in code and compiling and testing. Beyond this effort and the chance of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, that ain't a lot of work. Add a radio or CD player nearby, a fridge full of food, and the like, and you'll have someone that could work nearly indefinitely if the salary was right, and they wouldn't have to move from the desk.

    This can and has invoked laziness in the IT industry. Something goes wrong? You don't have to rebuilt it, or take it apart to find the troubled part; you can just modify the code and find the error. Since it's so easy to do so, coders generally can let bugs go until release time, and because it's easier to release a patch than do a recall (and much cheaper too), it's easier to let users find bugs and report them , and .. and... Well, it's basically a viscious cycle between the ease of the computer user and human nature to do as little work as possible.

    I'm not belittling IT. There's a lot of mental energy that is supplied to get the computer world working as it is. And I respect a lot of programmers and other sysadmins; I know that my excursions into IT can be mind wracking.

    Now, let's go back to Rob's idea. Would IT professionals be doing something else if there were no computers or internet? I would shout a resounding "NO" to this. I think that even though the people would have high quality ideas and intelligence, the fact that there would be more physical work involved would deter many from following those ideas. Additionally, because it's physical, people would be less tendful to let errors exist in the final designs or models, and there would be less buggy output. "If Microsoft Made Cars" I think would not really hold up in such a situation.

    Is this beneficial? It's a double-edged sword; I would think people like ESR and Linus and others would not necessariy be a big name if there were no computers, and those that have the mental capacity but the lack of physical proweless to get the job done would be unable to succeed as well as they have. On the other hand, we've gotten an attitude from the IT industry that is spreading to other industries on laziness and lack of checking for bugs and problems, and it has allowed people that don't necessarily have great ideas to succeed with sufficient monetary infusions. IMO, it's an overall beneficially effort: Linux and the Open Source movement of thousands of people collaborating across the world would never happen without the internet, and this is also spreading to other businesses.

  • The biggest drawback to the internet boom is that we have no innovation. Companies aren't taking chances anymore. They're perfectly content to keep doing things the way they've been doing them for the last 5 years.

    Just like all living processes, technology runs on punctuated evolution. Only during times of stress and recession do we engineer new technology. The intervening periods like the present are when tinkerers come in and improve the technology, but we won't see any revolutions until the next recession.

    The Alpha, Pentium, and PowerPC architectures we use today were all products of the 1993 recession when EEs were working their asses off to come up with something big. All improvements since then have been incremental tweeks on the same architecture.

    Remember the 1980 recession? That was coincidentally the second most recent semiconductor boom. Almost all the technology we used in the 80's was developed during that recession. The Yamaha DX-7 was such a monument of hard working EEs that it remained king for 10 years, surpassing all expectations for an electronic product. The Commodore 64 and all those 8 bit computers came from the 1980 recession.

    Until businesses start feeling pressure to experiment again, it's going to be a bad time for engineers and a good one for tinkerers.
  • ...you're forgetting one important ingredient... and it is very important...

    I am a tinker and a hacker on the 'net because it's very inexpensive and I can do it with cheap equipment...

    To work on the space program or really do groovy things with mechanical things and the like, you need groovy equipment... expensive equipment... Not just a Linux box (or in my day, a DOS box) and oodles of time.

    Same with the old days of electronics... I could do amazing things with a box full of parts and a breadboard or seven... Now, unless you're doing microcontrollers (which I really don't consider electronics, that's programming with the ability to make smoke), you can't do as amazing things... Someone always says "I can do that with my Mindstorm." or "I can do that with a $2 PIC and 15 minutes time." or how about "I can do that with one CPLD and 1/10 the space."

    Ah vell. My kids will still tinker, but it'll likely be software-related until I can get them to realize that old stuff still is useful for knowledge.
  • by Bryce ( 1842 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @10:24AM (#1574179) Homepage

    Roblimo is exactly right.

    I work at an aerospace company that in the past has developed some of the most exciting new technologies in rocketry, lasers, etc. Neat cutting edge kinds of things any geek would find fascinating. And the people that work there are uniformly extremely well educated and knowledgeable.

    Yet over the past two years (in particular the early part of 1999) the brain drain set in. It seems that nearly everyone under 30 quit the company and changed careers, usually going to some random dotcom or another, in the hopes of using their brainpower to make quick cash through stock options and 80 hour weeks.

    At the same time, the high value of the economy, lead to massive waves of retirements. People who had participated in Apollo, with a weath of know-how disappeared in incredible numbers.

    Today the people who remain are those who cannot easily pick up and move (due to children, mortgages, etc.) or who fall into the "old dog" category - unwilling or unable to learn the skills like Perl, C++, UML needed to succeed in the internet market. Needless to say, these are not the aggressive, single-focus dedicated people that would be needed to make the space industry leap to new challenges.

    And that is the other problem: No challenges. The attention that used to be fostered on the space industry by the government for Mars missions vs. Lunar bases vs. Spacestation vs. etc. now appears to be reserved for domain name control legislation, promoting internet morality, and helping or fighting companies exploiting the new internet industry.

    Money that could be spent on developing tech for solar power satellites, or on global telecommunications systems, or on interstellar propulsion, is instead being focused into building Y2K bureacracies, setting up elaborate citizen tracking systems for the FBI (to make it easier to save us from those evil people), or exposing fellow politician's ineptitudes.

    Of course, to do anything _really_ cool in space - going back to the Moon or Mars, or sending probes to other solar systems, for instance - would require a lot more money than we can handle right now. So I try to look at the current Internet boom as a massive project in increasing our communication and work efficiency, and in raising the standard of living high enough that our children can choose careers based on their interests, and not on the market's needs. And *then* maybe they can dust off the old space exploration books and have another go at it.

    Anyway, sorry for the long rant. I totally agree with Roblimo's concerns, he's brought up an issue that's troubled me quite a bit.

  • As someone whose life long dream was to be a Mechanical Eng. I feel I can comment on the above article with some authority. I was in my 3rd year at UIC in Chicago when it hit me. I am not going to change the world when I get out of school. I am going to do stress analysis on little metal parts for the first few years till I past the Exam, work on my masters, and generally be a flunky. I'll impliment standard procedures, get products out on time, and general be an efficient engineer. I would be revolutionizing any 100 year old industries overnight. Not that it can't happen, but would "I" be able to do it. I'm no company man in it for the pension. I also read an article in Pop Sci above genetic algos being using to design more eficient propelers for planes. The engineers were estatic at this 1% increase in effiencincy then had gained. Pop Sci went on to explain "that 1% is an amzing windfall in a mature field like areodynamics." I quit that semester.
    I didn't make the jump to computers for a few years after I quit school. But when I started a job in tech support 3 years ago (for which I was extremely underqualified) it was love at first sight. Here was a field where there are no "standard way" to do anything. If you think you can do it better, no one is going to get into your way. Either it works or it doesn't. If they don't like it you take your idea somewhere else and start your own company. Hell my boss is one year older then I am and sitting on ARIN's board. He is doing soemthing tangible and the effects will be felt for years to come.
    I only hope that my work can be as useful.

  • This is why I stay out of e-commerce, at least for now. I'll buy stuff, but I tend to avoid the lure of such ventures. They're really hot now, but when the boom ends I'll be stuck with something which isn't that much more profitable than a regular store, and not quite as fun either.

    But hey, I'm a geek. Specifically, I'm a coder. And as long as there are computers, people will need someone to make programs to run on them. When the Net boom ends, I'll code other things. It's not like the Net will disappear after the boom anyway; it just won't be a wowie-zowie-look-how-neato-keen-this-is thing like it is. It'll become like television is now (scary thought, I know); something that's such an integral part of our lives that we take it for granted. If I asked who on Slashdot could go without any television for a year or has already done so, I'd imagine I could count the responses on one hand. The same will be true of the Net; it'll still be there, it just won't be "special" like it is now.

    And any TV exec will tell you there's lots of money to be made in that sort of thing.
  • by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:23AM (#1574183)
    It's good to think about the impact your industry has on society as a whole, but I think the big concern here seems to be rather ego-centric. I mean, c'mon, all the 'best' minds attacted to the computer industry? Yeah, right.

    You know, those same minds that came up with the iMac, Windows, xf86config, & hardware designs that you need a set of tools to work on. Those people. Yep, they're sure the smartest people around!

    Some of the smartest people I've ever met don't care about computers except for how they make other things easier for them - like any other tool.

    The Internet is a communications & (now) transaction medium, nothing more. It's really a big pile of crap when you look at it a certain way - impressive only because of the sheer scope of how MUCH crap is there, and how varied & easy it is to ACCESS that crap. How many more pet web sites does the world need? (answer: as many pets as there are, and then we start on the fictional ones!)

    The Internet, and computers in general, are tools. Rather like the telephone, it's causing a great deal of attention right now because it's just recently become mainstream. But, like the telephone, it's hardly the harbinger of doom, and is actually a great help to just about everyone in every field.

    Those doctors & engineers Roblimo mentions can all do better at collaborating now because of the Internet. Who do you think the Internet was originally developed for, people with pets? I think not. (therefor I am not?)

    The Internet has a long ways to go to get where it needs to be. It needs, as so many have said before me, to be more like a kitchen appliance. Unfortunately, before we can get to that point, computers themselves need to be that easy and reliable to use. Microsoft obviously won't get us there, though they sure seem to want to actually BE in our real kitchen appliances! Linux and other Open Source operating systems have the reliability down, but not the interface (don't get me wrong - MS & Apple don't have the right interfaces, either). But Linux has the mindshare and momentum now to take on all comers. Hopefully Linux will drag the other OSS operating systems into the daylight (kicking and screaming, no doubt, about being behind Linux in the spotlight), and we'll have freedom of choice, too.

    Either way, it's good to have a selection of reliable tools.

    So, to sum up, the hammer didn't end society - it made building easier. But then again, the hammer is a lot easier to use than the Internet.
  • To say "had we not worked on the Internet, we would've worked on something else" as Roblimo does here seems to be an exercise in basic logic. I'm really not sure what the point of this article really was.

    Is Roblimo trying to convince us that we should stop riding the Internet boom because it's going to run out eventually, and we're lagging behind in other areas? This seems silly. All advancement is eventually replaced with a new one. Plus, even though we may not be excelling at making cars, we do excel at progressing the development of computers and the Internet. We lead there. We now have technology in our computers that were unheard of three years ago, and are working on ones we didn't even consider a month ago. Moreover, the development of computers and the Internet is particularly nice, because it assist development in other areas, since computers have practically no end to their uses. A car might help a journalist get to a story faster, but it won't help an author create a cleaner, flexible copy of his work. A computer can help them both.

    As for politicians... that's always a problem. :)

    -- Stargazer

  • ... I have to disagree with it in at least 2 ways. Firstly, not all tinkerers and smart people are necessarily the same, or driven by the same things! People are inspired by the strangest things, and perhaps 'Ron' was inspired by the power of computers and the rewarding nature of programming (symbol manipulation, algorithm development). If these facets hadn't been available, perhaps he'd be one of those 'underachievers', sullen and depressed because of ability with no outlet for release. To paraphrase a famous quote: "Stupid people are stupid in the same way, while Smart people are smart in different ways"..

    Also, to think that people are going 'to waste' because the internet's a fad is kinda putting the cart before the horse here. Would you have said that James Watt was wasting his time because he was tinkering with a well-known mechanism? What about Alexander Graham Bell? Who would possibly put up with the bother and expense of running all that metal wire when you could perfectly well just write a letter or use a telegraph?

    I think that history has taught us that any major advance in communication capability has changed western culture in massive and incalcuable ways. The printing press, the telegraph, the telephone, radio, television, and now the Internet. If there's any proven historical trend, it's that anything which improves human ability to communicate or travel brings wealth and prominence to people involved in the field. Not necessarily the inventors, but to someone.

    The internet joins many different streams of human progress: communications, (virtual) travel, and symbolic manipulation, among others. The telephone's touch-tone system has spun off a huge and entirely unpredictable range of services and interaction available by the side effects of having tone-recognition capability and a 12 button interface. Hell, think of all the features a simple switchhook 'flash' can get you these days! Thirteen buttons are all you need to buy clothes, order food, make travel plans, check movie times.

    The internet and the power that simple, standard data communications offer can make life smarter and less tedious than ever before, though along with that (as history shows) it probably won't help decide the difficult questions, and it probably won't make life any easier (since all the tedious bits are done for you, all that's left is the really hard stuff. :( )

    We're only 30 years into the Internet revolution, and really only 5 years into the popularization of the Internet. It's a little bit early to bemoan our waste of human capital just yet.

    Your Working Boy,
  • by otis wildflower ( 4889 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:07AM (#1574193) Homepage
    My feeling is eventually the Sysadmin field will end up being similar to other, more traditional skilled fields like carpentry, plumbing, auto mechanics, etc. The job of sysadmin requires both a skillset and a mindset of a highly technical nature, which is rare in both boom and bust times. Sysadmins trade on their knowledge of and facility with their systems, much as a plumber trades on on his knowledge and facility with pipes, water flow, local codes and ordinances, etc. Sysadmins (when the bust comes) will probably have to suffer an attitude adjustment: a lot of primadonna behavior (mine included ;) will have to go, but in the end, real sysadmins with skill, knowledge, and a 'calling' for the field will continue to do well. The 'casual' sysadmins who are in it for the money will have to look elsewhere, thus reducing the overall admin pool and equalizing the salaries higher among those that enjoy the job.

    Actually, depending on the size of the company, I see sysadmin morphing into a 'superintendent' role for small companies and a combination 'plumber/janitor' role for larger companies. The job actually reflects elements of those jobs now, but with the demand there's an added element of 'fuck you, I can go across the street and get 30% more salary in 24 minutes' which I find ultimately regrettable in terms of personal happiness (in the short run it's fine, but in the long run you have to be pretty social and good at maintaining contacts made in brief amounts of time to make something ultimately worthwhile of the job-hopping act)

    And the difference between a burnt-out admin and a working admin is the ability to manage expectations well, as well as the ability to say NO and stand firm. If you bitch and moan about people heaping stuff on you, which isn't really your job but since you can do it in 5 minutes and they would take a half hour you do it, so you do it, they will CONTINUE TO HEAP THINGS ONTO YOU because (and this is the really sad part) YOU'VE TRAINED THEM TO! This is a sure road to quick burnout. Don't sacrifice your personality or psyche to the job: it's JUST A JOB.

    Your Working Boy,
  • All the internet has done so far is accelerate communication and amplify the current state of affairs in the societies it has come in contact with. Witness commerce moving onto the internet - the advertisements, "get a free pc" offers, and banner ads are all rooted in their real-world equivalents - TV ads, giveaway offers, and billboards. It's just that online those ideas are amplified and reinforced at an accelerated rate.

    Same with communication. Before communication occurred totally within the context of a one-to-many relationship. Now you have a many-to-many relationship, although the dynamics of communication and it's content have not changed. Rather than telephoning people we e-mail them. Rather than watching the news we read www.cnn.com or slashdot. Same concepts, except now they're more specialized and refined - they've been amplified.

    The internet will adapt to serve society, NOT the other way around. If the opposite had occurred, we would be having wars, anarchy and mass hysteria. As it is we only have some hysteria and alot of paranoia over the changes that are washing up on the fringe shores of society - the geeks and outcasts.

  • I agree with Mocaone on this (see next post) - the internet is just the medium. It's a collection of fiber optic wires, servers, routers, switches, hubs, and computers. It doesn't have a life independent of those that use it. To say that it's "revolutionizing" things is akin to saying an inanimate object has human-like characteristics.

    When I look at webpages, desktops, multimedia presentations and word documents... I don't see technology - I see people. What do you see?

  • So you'd be suprised at how little impact computers really have on their lives.

    I wouldn't be surprised at all. I used to be a sign-maker, and I worked in a furniture shop for a while (can ya tell by the examples in my other post?). I was also a ditch digger for two miserable hellish days (digging holes for sprinkler systems). And yeah, most of the people I worked with neither knew nor cared whatsoever what all this computer stuff was about. Interestingly, the owner of the furniture company was an ex-programmer, though.

    In any case, computers will, and are already, having an effect on people's lives. They might never notice it though, and it's that sort of ubiquity that the article is really talking about, I think. There were people who said the the newfangled "horseless carriage" was a tinker toy for hobbyists, and would never have any effect on *their* lives, but of course it did. Same thing for electricity. And there's always The Graduate: "One words, boy: Plastics!"

    The point of all this being, of course, that pretty soon, my (and many other's here) "glorious" profession is going to be seen as no more than plumbing. Fixing the internet pipes when they get clogged up. And whenever someone casts a profession in that light, someone else is bound to say that "we could just use machines to do that." And then this thread gets going.

    So why are you, a human, still digging ditches? Can it be that in all our decades of industrial progress, somehow the work of digging ditches has been overlooked as a job that could be done by machines? Nope, there are lots of ditching machines. But (and I've been there) there are some ditches that are tricky to dig, and require the flexibility and learning skills of human ditch-diggers to do it. Sure, some clever engineer could make a machine to dig that bit right next to the house, where the outdoor pipes are. But that machine wouldn't be able to do the intersection in the middle of the lawn where two pipes cross. Basically, it'd be way way more expensive to make a machine to do your job than it would be to pay you to do it.

    So, you're pretty much right. No machine is going to replace [you] until it learns how to get drunk and be miserable! For most jobs that are considered skilled crafts (and even many that aren't considered such, but actually are), people are still by far the most cost-effective machines to perform them. Until we can build a machine with the physical and mental flexibility to get drunk and be miserable (i.e. duplicate human behaviour, basically), all these jobs will keep on bein done by all the "plain old ordinary stupid people" that programmers think they're so much better than.

    Morning gray ignites a twisted mass of colors shapes and sounds

  • by kuro5hin ( 8501 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @10:20AM (#1574206) Homepage
    At the beginning of this century, people were saying basically this about the world of things. Humans would no longer be needed to craft things, because it could all be automated, and everything could be made in factories. Well, that has happened to some extent, i.e. factories do mass-produce a lot of the goods that we buy. But there are some things that still are not, and I'd argue, cannot be done by machines in a cost-effective way.

    Note: This is not a "machines cannot do what Humanity can do!" argument. I've no doubt that machines could be built that can (for example) duplicate the craftsmanship of an experienced woodcarver. However, doing so would be prohibitively expensive. It's simply more cost-effective to hire an experienced woodcarver than to try to duplicate that skill in a machine. The same is true for many other fields, where an approximation can be made with cheap and fast machinery, but for the Real Thing, it's just way less hassle to hire a skilled human to do the work.

    The same thing, IMHO, is true for programming. Yes, you can automate the process, and eventually, I won't be at all surprised to see some sort of evolutionary "device-driver-writing" AI (for example). It'll crank out simple, common code by reusing chunks of "boilerplate" and evolving the whole program till it works. BUT. I don't believe it will ever be cost-effective to build an AI that can so closely approximate the workings of a skilled coder that it's output would be indistinguishable from that of a Real Programmer.

    Just to emphasize-- this is not an argument that it cannot be done. I'm not advocating some sort of "human's have souls that make them unique in the universe" idea. I'm simply saying that the decision to build machines that approximate or duplicate human activity is an economically motivated decision, and for many things, duplicating human labor mechanically is simply not cost-effective past a certain point.

    Morning gray ignites a twisted mass of colors shapes and sounds

  • I disagree with your assumption that the rest of industry is populated by the second-raters(I'll give you the fact that government is). The perception you have is based on the fact that the automotive, agriculture, whatever industry don't provide innovation at the same pace or magnitude of the computing industry. Now, with regards to the Internet, it's infinitely easier to build five revisions of a website than to build one good automotive engine design, or advanced aircraft frame, etc. BUT, the inherent difficulties of innovation in those industries are substantially increased by something that the Internet, as yet, does not have to contend with....regulation.
    In the current climate of "safety" and "consumer protection," can you honestly believe that a group of hackers could come together and in a year's time create a product weighing two tons, carrying flammable fuel, capable of travelling in excess of 140 miles per hour, and will be operated within feet of defenseless pedestrians on city sidewalks...or worse, next to playgrounds where CHILDREN play?
    Smart and creative people want the freedom to innovate and succeed on the basis of their ideas and results. Unfortunately, our current climate of NerfWorld(tm)-style legislation inhibits those who innovate, and reward those who cow-tow to interest groups, government bureaucrats, and the basest of emotional public appeal.
    In every new industry, unfettered by regulation or meddling, the best and brightest appear and innovate at a phenomenal speed. Remember that the personal computer revolution is now some 24 years old...it took us less time to go from propeller-driven aircraft to moon landings. The automobile went from amusing distraction to ubiquitous tool of society in a similar amount of time. Now look at the pace of innovation in the aircraft, automobile, or space industries after they were regulated "for the benefit of society." The only ones who have benefitted from this stifling are uncompetitive industries, and the second-raters that make their living erecting barriers to the innovators.
    Don't bemoan the Internet's attraction of innovators, celebrate the fact that at this point in time, we still have a venue to express our innovation. Don't worry, the regulators and meddlers are already drawing down on the Internet industry, so we'll just have to invent another unique market to succeed in. ;)
  • The "hot technology" changes over time. About 100 years ago, the hot technology of the day was steam and hydraulics. To a crude approximation, Freud's ideas were really a hydraulic theory of psychodynamics: emotional energy could transfer from place to place, and if it built up enough pressure, something would burst. Nowadays, psychodynamic theories are subtly informed by our knowledge of computers.

    I went to a yoga retreat, and realized that if I'd visited India 2000 or 3000 years ago, the hot technology of the day would have been yoga and meditation. It would have consumed as much of the currency and intellectual resources as the internet consumes today.

    There must have been a time, around the heyday of the Library of Alexandria, when much mental effort went into the advancement of library science. Perhaps people were developing precursors of the Dewey decimal system. Certainly there must have been many translators living and working in Alexandria. Some days, some of the librarians must have asked themselves if all this work on books was really a good idea. An infrastructure for books doesn't directly contribute to any field, but indirectly contributes to all.

    I can remember a day when businesses didn't have any computers. Records were kept on papers in file drawers. Computations were done on desktop adding machines with levers on the side. Searching for information meant checking a card catalog, and then manually examining all the relevant-looking pieces of paper in the file drawers. The entire economy, and every level of government, worked this way.

    The economy will probably competently reallocate resources when some other area starts to offer greater promise. Given how tech and net stocks have flattened over the last year, we might already be in the midst of that reallocation.

  • I would also agree that not all the best and brightest gravitate to internet-related work. Rhetorical question: if the best/brightest are working in internet technology, why are we still grappling with crap browser technology, rudimentary development tools and methodologies, etc. etc. etc.? Frankly, there have been and will continue to be far more interesting and complex challenges in computing than building collaborative web sites which manipulate databases. If you want a real computing challenge, try designing mutithreaded transaction queuing systems, secure crypto, etc., not building web sites.
  • Capitalism is, at best, amoral;
    This is what kills will take down this country. Capitalism is the only moral system in existance. It works on the principle of everyone producing, and getting what they deserve for what they produce. Some one mentioned the guilt complex for IT managers.. Why is this? What is so wrong about making lots money for work that people have a great demand for. The electronic digital computer and by extension, the Internet, is the most import achievement in the last 500 years. Someone else said that the Internet will eventually be something very plain, and equated it to a mailbox.. I think they're right.. but it should be equated to a wheel, or to fire. We are the best and brightest of this country, and we are doing very important work. We shouldn't be ashamed of getting what we deserve for it.

    And why is it so important to "serve society?" Think of this: If every person in the world concetrated only on serving the needs of himself, what would "society" have left to do? We wouldn't need welfare, or any kind of social programs of that sort becuase everyone would be responsible for themselves.

    The Egghead
    "There are no contradictions. Check your premises"
  • by wocky ( 17453 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @09:32AM (#1574223) Homepage
    I can understand the perception that there is an internet brain drain, but I don't believe that it's a reality. The perception comes from at least four factors.
    1. What you see happening depends on where you're looking. People reading Slashdot are probably interested in computer-related fields, and they keep track of developments in these areas. Few have any serious knowledge of something like modern agriculture. In my work at Bell Labs, I see plenty of very intelligent people working in non-computer areas such as astronomy or materials science, but even this perspective is skewed towards science and technology.
    2. What constitutes brilliant is not the same in all areas. As a technical type, I tend to admire logical thinking and the ability to reason about complex systems. But for a politician, it is probably more important to have the ability to relate to people, understand alternative viewpoints on a wide range of subjects, fashion compromises, and convince people to pull together.
    3. Since computers are so pliable and the technology moves so fast, it is relatively easy to make sweeping changes quickly. This lends the impression that the people driving the changes are brilliant visionaries. But a great politician can't throw out the government and start from scratch. Want to develop a new automobile powered by fuel cells? You've got to contend with the huge infrastructure designed to support the internal combustion engine, from gas stations to repair shops. As programmers, we also curse the legacy systems that we must contend with. Even the smartest people find it difficult to overcome inertia.
    4. The internet is a very young thing. When anything fundamentally new appears, there is usually a burst of rapid development. You hear about all these smart people doing exciting things. Eventually, most of the "easy" things have been done, progress slows, and you get the impression that all those people have moved on. They're still there, but it's not simple to do something really new anymore. But in a year or two, someone who's been toiling away making only incremental progress will get a great idea, and suddenly all those brilliant people will reappear from thin air.
    I'll close with a little anecdotal evidence. The technically smartest people I've known personally are now: a theoretical physicist, a doctor, a musician, a film-maker, a semiconductor device physicist, a CAD researcher, and a manager at an engine manufacturer. I know one person who has founded a wildly successful internet-related company, but I never considered him very astute.
  • by SatanLilHlpr ( 17629 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:50AM (#1574224)
    Success is an essentially meaningless term. Many of us know this, experiencing the meaningless thrust towards an artificial deadline, to release a product of dubious value to the user.

    How much of the technology that we toot our own horns about really provides significant benefit to mankind? I think most slashdoters have the sense that it really takes a technologically savvy person to really exploit and profit from technology, at least on a personal level. How much progress has the user seen, in say a word processor, in the last 5 or 10 years? That's right. None. We're all writing the exact same letters and resumes with SUPER-ULTRA-BETTER-THAN-BRAND-X-Y2K-TURBO-WHATEVER -V12.9pluspak that we did when we used Xy-write.

    So what of the average person? What is this bubble of so-called prosperity made of? Endless forced upgrades, where the customer is snowed into believing that he absolutely has to have the latest and greatest in order to keep typing out his invoices? Sure, our stock options are fat, but is this something to be proud of?

    Without doubt, automation and networking have provided massive economies of scale, allowing industry to be much more productive. I don't really think that there is any argument there. Items that used to be optional luxuries are now seen as requirements: $500 Weber grill, useless sport utility monstrosities that spend 95% of their existence on a freeway or a parking lot...

    So, *yay*, our society is the most productive and opulent in all history. Am I the only one feeling a bit hollow? We've created a giant army of highly productive and innovative professionals, but WE FORGOT TO DECIDE WHERE WE WERE GOING BEFORE WE SET OUT ON THIS JOURNEY TO NOWHERE!!!

    Look up from your cubicle and tell me we haven't built ourselves a guilded cage.



    If you have similar links, please send them my way.

    Celebrate International Buy Nothing Day on November 26, 1999.
  • If the US can produce good food cheap, let them.

    But the U.S. doesn't produce good food cheap. They produce food (whether it's good is a value judgement) expensive. Not because the soil is poor, or the technology is lacking, or even because the government is corrupt (it is, but that's beside the point). U.S.-produced food is expensive because people in the U.S. can make more money by not producing food. And I don't mean farmers idling their land in conservation-reserve programs. I mean the children and grandchildren of farmers leaving the farm because there's more money to be made in other lines of work.

    Food is cheap in the U.S. not because they grow it so cheap there, but because they import it from third-world countries where farm labor is cheap. Americans aren't stupid - if they can make ten times the money working in an air-conditioned office with vacation and sick pay and health insurance, they will. It's far better than performing hot heavy farm labor with no benefits, and pay that is entirely at the mercy of commodity markets. They'll let third-world people feed them because that costs less. Because third-worlders don't have the option of working in the air-conditioned office.

  • Outside the nerd community the impact of internet is fairly limited, I think.

    Not at all. The impact is enormous. The understanding is limited.

    I know several people who are clueless about
    internet and only have the minimum skill required for reading email.

    Right. The internet impacts them, but their understanding of it is limited.

    The same thing could be said of other things with immense impacts. The phone system, f'rinstance. It has had an impact on people and businesses all over the world. A great many people have phones, and use them. But only a few devoted phone phreaks and phone-company people really understand how it works. Would you say that "outside the phone phreak community, the impact of the telephone is fairly limited"?

    Sometimes I find myself longing for the "old days", when the impact of the internet really was minimal outside of the nerd comunity. When nerds used it to share information, and few people had considered it as yet another medium for selling things. That's a large part of why I'm here ranting instead of shopping over at ebay or amazon. But I digress. If non-nerds hadn't intruded, and started selling things via the internet, a lot of nerds would be working as parking-lot attendants and cashiers to support their computer habits, er, hobbies.

  • by Bill the Cat ( 19523 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:40AM (#1574230)
    IMHO, the attraction of the "best and brightest" to the internet/technology sector is nothing but capitalism at work, and that's a good thing.

    A case could be made that because of advancements in technology, the need for top-level people in some industries and government has waned.

    For example, the automobile business has been around for a long time. The state of automobile technology is such that the cars being produced by companies such as honda and toyota are pretty clean and fuel efficient, so much so that the need for a revolutionary improvement in those areas is not nearly as great as the need for revolutionary improvement in certain technology products.
  • And astrologists have been studying the nature of astral body movements for a long time, and have developed quite comprehensive quantitative models. Argument from authority.

    No, not argument from authority. You asked me for substantiation of my claims of quantitative models and I provided them. You are changing the question. Your original claim was:

    there is no such thing as the real quantitative study of what actually happened

    I provided direct evidence of such studies. Done by people who have a lot better empirical track record than do either astrologers or Marxist economicists.

    The unstated assumption here is that these countries would be worse off in the long run if other countries didn't invest in them. Can you
    substantiate that?

    Sure. But why should I? You have declined to provide any substantiation of your position. When I provide substantiation you change the question.

    Put up or shut up.
  • by dizco ( 20340 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:04AM (#1574234)
    The internet "boom" will not leave desolate virtual ghost-towns. You're comparing it to the wrong things. Compare it to electricity. Compare it to automobiles. Compare it to air travel. It will continue to "boom" for quite some time, and then maybe its rate of expansion will slow, but it will still be expansion. it will never go backwards and eventually fade away, as do conventional booms and fads. Not, at least, until there is something better. But i don't see that happening anytime soon, much as i don't see us driving around in hover cars or using magic phone booths that instantly transport us to our destinations, or using a new-fangled replacement for electricity.

    Silicon vally will not experience a great exodus prompted by the public deciding "oh, that internet thing? yeah, we're done with that. check out my pokemon tho!"

    Unless you're a moron, your job field is not in danger, and you don't need to decide if you want to be a farmer or a carver of wooden ducks in a shack in maine after this internet malarky is over.

  • by deranged unix nut ( 20524 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:09AM (#1574235) Homepage
    Maybe the cs department that I attend is different from some others, but "it depends" is a correct answer for many questions. However, each prof in my cs department is doing research and is teaching, so that might make a difference too. I don't know.

    The problem that I see is we seem to have many people drawn to the computers for the money, not for the desire. They don't have any passion for the field, and because of that, they probably won't succeed.

    At the same time, many people and organizations seem to be substituting technology for intellegence. How many accounts of the salesperson who, when the cash register stops working, can't add $2.50 and $2.50 to give a total in a state with no sales tax. I have heard and have seen dozens of accounts like this.

    The real danger is when we turn our brains off.
    Most of us are guilty of this. I probably have spelling and gramatical errors in this message because I normally rely on spell checkers too much.

    Just remember, If we keep exercising our grey matter, it will serve us well, otherwise, we are zombies. Find a passion, follow that passion, and you will be happy and prosperous.
  • "The same thing could be said of other things with immense impacts. The phone system, f'rinstance. It has had an impact on people and businesses all over the world. A great many people have phones, and use them."

    I'm not denying the phone or the internet has an impact on society. That would be rediculous. I' just saying the internet is not a revolution. The telephone wasn't a revolution either, it took several decades for people to use them as they are used now. My grandmother still uses the telephone very sparingly and when she does its only for a few minutes. She'll probably never understand or use internet nor does she have to. My parents both learned how to use computers in the past ten years (internet too during the last year) but I can't say it had a major impact on their lives.

    So people send an email instead of a fax, big deal. Sure it is an improvement but no revolution. I suppose in a decade or so computers and networks will be as common as the telephone is right now. But it won't be a revolution.
  • by jilles ( 20976 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:52AM (#1574237) Homepage
    Interesting post. Outside the nerd community the impact of internet is fairly limited, I think. I know several people who are clueless about internet and only have the minimum skill required for reading email. But I don't think those people are less intelligent than I am (as the article suggests). They just don't have the same interest as I have. Sometimes after hours of reloading slashdot and surfing the web I wonder if I couldn't have just read my email, switched of my computer and done something useful instead.

    The world is just spinning around its 24 hour spins like it has done for millions of years. I don't believe in revolutions and I refuse to see internet as one. Rather I see progressing integration of networks and computers into daily life. Nothing to worry about.

    Of course you can think about the impact of internet on society, the environment, politics and such. There are people who have a very negative perspective on these matters and there are people who think internet is the final solution to all problems related to these matters. These groups of people are called pessimists and idealists and have been around for a very long time but most people are not part of either of those groups: optimism is a requirement for survival on the long term and pragmatism usually defeats idealism in the end. My believe is that human beings are particularly good at solving problems. I.e. if environment is becoming a large enough problem people will start to come up with solutions for these problems. Partly this is already happening.

    The author is wondering what his friend would have done 100 years ago. Well lets think on and move back time 1000 years or even 10000 years. You'll find that each time he's doing something similar (doing what he is best at). Of course the subject of his activities will vary (computers, machines, bow and arrow, the wheel?). Of course you can also move the time forward and I don't think the pattern will change much. From my point of view a piece of software is very much like a machine, you can tweak it, play with it, improve it and some will claim it has a mind of its own. So there's plenty of room to do useful stuff with his talents.
  • by Coda ( 22101 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @04:16PM (#1574239) Homepage
    Stop reading Wired: the global economy doesn't help people. It helps corporations, who hold no real allegiance to actual human beings.

    Does the fact that PepsiCo's stock is high make your life any better?

    Has quality of life improved?

    Are your wages increasing at the same rate as your cost of living?

    The "Big Boom" has resulted in mass inequality of condition.

    This is okay? This is good? Neglect and exploitation of the Third World to keep us where we are is justified?

    Don't get me wrong, the technology by itself is not evil. It's neat, it's entertaining.

    But does ICQ help starving people? Does HTML 4.0 solve civil war? Do microkernels help the hole in the ozone layer?

    When we wax poetic about how decentralized network theory can be applied to society at large, let's not forget that there are problems out there. The world sucks right now. 25% of American women will be raped at least once in their life. Corporate profit margins are going up as loyalty to employees goes down. We still drive cars. There's 6 billion of us now. Money hasn't helped anything.

    It's easy to put this aside and ignore it. It's not fun to think about, but we need to nonetheless.

    I'm not blaming the Internet Boom for this, either. If we weren't checking out the latest build of Mozilla (lookin' good, guys!), we'd be doing something else of equal or lesser import.


  • by Finni ( 23475 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:47AM (#1574241)
    I think Roblimo is making an invalid comparison here. It takes a different skillset, and different type of intelligence, to do different things. No matter how bright a person may be in one thing, that doesn't mean that they're good with other things.

    Personally, and applicable to your analogy with "Ron," I am good with computers and software. I am useless with mechanical contrivances. With my car, I can change my own oil, and I even did my own air filter a few weeks back. But no matter how hard my Mechanical Engineering friends try, I still have troble really understanding how a car's transmission works.

    You said that there was a politico you met who you wouldn't trust to drive your limo, because he'd get lost. I have friends in the IT business who I would never ask for financial or personal advice, because they aren't good at and don't understand that sort of thing.

    People gravitate towards the things that they feel rewarded by, either external (monetary, social prestige) rewards or internal (sense of satisfaction, personal growth) rewards. IT people do it because they are good at it and get paid well for it. Many (like McNealy) could get paid much better as executives, but most don't. Either they wouldn't view the hassle of management as worth their salary (unlikely) or they don't have a hig-end management mindset. Or the current management wouldn't promote them that high, which shows that the hypothetical IT people in question aren't good at office/social politics.
  • by dave256 ( 24152 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:36AM (#1574242)

    What if, instead of the internet being the 'brain drain' described, it simply turned out to be a fad?

    By fad I mean exactly what the word means.. a passing phenomonon. I have a feeling that someday, the internet is going to be as common place as a telephone or a mailbox, and used in much the same manner. Anymore, I seriously doubt you could blame the lack of creativity on a mailbox.

    Sure, right now it's sucking talent into it, but I just can't bring myself to think that it will continue to do so. It will become a name, and it will stabilize, and then, it really will be the tool for technological advancements that everyone keeps promising us it is.

    At least, that's my take on things.

    I want a rock.

  • First you are wondering what the world would be like if the resources that went into the internet were used for some other project, like world hunger. It's an interesting thought, but not a very useful one. The internet attracted so many minds because it was a better opportunity. It is a quicker way to make more money than, say, agricultural research. That's just the way it is.

    "And then I remember that the Internet is really not a big deal; it's just a toy for the few of us who are so rich that we don't worry about finding food to eat..."

    Try telling that to Wall Street ;)

    Then: "the rest of the world is being run by second-raters."

    This is a silly conclusion to draw - just because there are many bright people working in computer-related industries does NOT mean that there are no bright people left for other things; in fact, i am not in the computer business, and your conclusion seems to imply that i'm second rate.

    Then: "The Internet doesn't create ideas; it's merely a tool that helps distribute them and makes collaborative thinking easier. Computers do no original thinking; they merely help human thinkers work more efficiently"

    Who's claiming they do?

    Then: "The talents that make a good programmer could be applied just as well in many other fields, from politics to agricultural development ..."

    I have to disagree with you there. In very broad terms this might be true: honesty, hard work, etc. etc. But how many geek programmers do you know who would be good politicians? How many can schmooze for hours at fund-raising dinner parties and debate (_not_ using a keyboard) the merits of a particular policy issue. Maybe they can out-think most politicians on technical issues, but that in the end isn't what politics is ultimately about, and it isn't what politicians are paid to do.

  • by ChrisGoodwin ( 24375 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:16AM (#1574244) Journal
    If the bigtime hackers had any interest in working in the space program, or trying to design the 200MPG carburetor, that's what they'd be doing, Internet or no Internet.

    I don't think the Internet is keeping people from doing other things they enjoy.
  • Trust me, there are plenty of very very smart people working on things other than the internet. Let's think of most of the really breakthrough internet-related development. The net allows people to buy stuff from vendors -- anybody from a major company (amazon [amazon.com], dell [dell.com] to some guy sitting in his basement [jncs.com]. Also there is very available information [cnn.com], as well as slashdot. If somebody is in some country that's getting bombed to hell by the US, they can set up a web server and give accurate(hopefully) accounts of what's really going on that doesn't get filtered through TV. There are various projects for the distribution of software [freshmeat.net], as well as thigns like distributed.net/seti@home.
    I may have missed some things, but most other sites seem to be clones of the above -- ie ppl selling stuff, distributing news, distributing programs. It doesn't take much wit to clone a website.
    The development of software (ie the linux distos, BSD's, m$) also takes effort. However it seems to me that for every software engineer there is prolly a hardware engineer working on something else (intel Leadmine, the G4, whatever).
    I think that there is also a very large number of people working in science. Every major university has some large portion of it devoted purely to medical research, I think, and those areas are full with very very smart individuals doing their best to cure cancer (I work in such a lab myself) or other diseases.

    You can't rechannel energy from one industry to another. I can tell you that because people have different interests, they would be much less productive in a field they are not interested in. So for example if I get my thrills by making programs, I'd be quite less interested in working on a farm trying to grow a giant tomato (no offense to Lisa Simpson) or develop better diesel engines.

    The point is that I believe it is a miracle that we have gotten this far already, and besides, would colonies on the moon be really worth it if you couldn't listen to mp3's (or watch DVD in linux) once you got there?
  • The only profound effect that the net has had on society in general is that Joe User can now look up scores on espn.com instead of watching the little ticker at the bottom of CNN on tv, and buy stuff with one click from amazon as opposed to actually having to go to a store. Everything else is a minor change, I believe. As for that whole Hellmouth thing, people just need to calm down and not take stuff so seriously. (please don't misinterpret that last statement. No offense was meant to any victims of any tragedy. I mean that the possible perpetrators of inhuman acts need to relax.)
  • Ordering products with the click of a mouse, from ANY store ANYwhere
    You are telling me that Joe User has interests in anything he can't get at WalMart?

    Obviously linux could not have existed as such without the net, but how has that affected Joe User? Even if he has a computer, he is connected through AOL, and he doesn't care if some server he's getting porn from is running linux/apache or whatever.

    mp3 is only changing the music industry for the little guy, artists that benefit from mp3.com. However, the "old" way of getting yourself recognized as musician is still the same -- play in some clubs, get a demo out, sign a contract with some existing label.

    I'm not saying that some small number of people can benefit greatly and have their minds expanded with limitless amounts of wisdom (as you are doing by reading my comment ;)) but if linux isn't important enough to get drivers written for it by hardware manufacturers, (which is already in the computing industry), how can it have a really significant impact? Sure, the internet is helping Bill push IIs servers, but that's still in the computing industry.

    I'm saying that as soon as it becomes very difficult for a grownup in any walk of life to live without an email account, THEN the net will have a significant impact for everybody.

    Ah, whatever.
  • by vanyel ( 28049 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:05AM (#1574253) Journal
    One problem with your analysis is that most other industries are very capital intensive. You're not going to colonize the moon or create a world changing automobile in your garage. What's worse, is that without the Internet, anyone interested in doing something like that would have a much harder time figuring out how to do it. The Internet gives them the capability to form groups who would never have even know they existed without it. If, one day, a group gets together to build an open source rocket, it will be the Internet that made it possible.
  • As a nonconditional requirement during an interview process, I was required to take this test [keirsey.com].

    It tries to divide people into 16 "variant temperaments" by evaluating answers to the questions on the test.

    Its interesting. I would imagine that most people using Slashdot will end up in the "Rational" group, whereas many people running government would end up in the "Guardian" group. It doesn't presume to rate the intelligence of people, just their temperaments.

    It may be that the folks that choose IT as a career fall more into a specific temperament than those who go into, say, automotive engineering.

  • ....and a time for every purpose under heaven, etc.etc.

    I guess it's time for internet development!

    Imagine how Colonial architecture could have progressed if the brightest minds of the industrial revolution had not been so wrapped up in factories and machinery!

    As for McNealy in a political debate, Clinton would eat him alive!

    Seriously, I think it's more than a bit presumptious to believe that the brightest minds are completely absorbed by the internet. The brightest minds are able to grok more than one industry/project simultaneously. Anyone who's young and got a modicum of intelligence these days will likely have a firm understanding of the internet and how it will potentially impact their bottom line. I would argue that internet is just a means to an end for most of the "bright minds" out there, and not necessarily and end in itself as this article seems to suggest.

    Trust me, the rest of the world will be okay!

    Just my 2 cents
  • by rjreb ( 30733 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:57AM (#1574260)
    Most of my friends work either directly on the Internet or in some sort of Internet-related computer field.

    And then he wonders if this is a good thing?!?

    Why do you think most people who are in the computer field get into the computer field? Because either 1) it's a labor of love and/or 2) it allows the freedom to work at the office, home, on a plane, and if the government gets to oppressive you can pick your marbles and move it all through customs effortlessly to a new playground. Try doing that if you're "happily modifying his neighbors' threshers and steam tractors."

    That is why the New Internet Economy(tm) is growing so rapidly and the industrials didn't. Freedom is the path of least resistance. Is that really so hard to understand. What you're proposing has already been tried in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc.

    Per Investor's Business Daily, "The US several years back boosted the maximum speed limit on its open highways to 65 miles per hour from 55. A surge in computer investment and the Internet have done the same thing for the economy."

    And Roblimo, you need to read 'Atlas Shrugged.'

    Geeeesh, I hate these time changes...

  • by Wah ( 30840 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @11:54AM (#1574265) Homepage Journal
    This thing is just getting rolling. The Internet was the big first step, the spark if you will. I think Linux might be a big log on the fire (free widely distributed quality software). I think it might end at nanotech and quantum mechanics.

    We really are moving on to a new and exciting age. Information is power and the Net basically gives every single person (connected to it, an important technicality) a Whole Lotta Power.

    Media, as an example, is seeing a huge shift as it becomes easier and easier to become a media gatekeeper or content creator. Truly interactive media (where you create the content) is already here, you're reading it.

    One the whole, How People Communicate, is changing and that has wide reaching unforseen consequences (hopefully benificial) on society.
  • by hph ( 32331 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:23AM (#1574271)
    Well, is snail-mail a fad? Are telephones a fad? Is the written word ( by pens and pencils) a fad? I surely think they have come to stay... That is the same status the Internet will have when the next Big Thing (internet++) comes along... That does not
    make the Internet a fad (It has afterall been popular in the mass media for the last 8 years, and been a fact for the last 30..) Now the question is: What will be the next Big Thing(tm)?
  • by Haven ( 34895 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:44AM (#1574275) Homepage Journal
    this internet boom is exactly what it is... a boom... and like all booms they become diluted and more spread out. Everybody pays a whole lot of attention to a boom, but not its' after effects. The internet will eventually become as widespread as telephone service, and people will stop obsessing over it.

    Where would the world be now without the Internet? I'm sure the stock market would be doing so well without those day traders. We would still be under the opression of shopping from local retail stores when we know that "Widgets Inc. of Some town far away" has your widgets for half price. Also where would Linux be without the internet? Widespread open source development would be nearly impossible, and we would all be paying $79.99 for Redhat 6.1 (of course we cold still burn copies).

    I just think the internet isn't harming society at all. At the time people in Europe said Gutenburg Printing Press is making people read too much when they could be out farming. What they didn't know is that advanced farming techniques were coming from Africa by way of printed books. The internet will better civilization and we won't even know it in our lifetime.
  • I must disagree with the idea of an "Internet Brain Drain," for several reasons. It is simply not true that "all the best and brightest minds are attracted to Internet-based industries." Many of the world's best and brightest minds are attracted to writing, to music, to art, to mathematics, to the sciences, to politics, or to agriculture. The fields that have drawn bright minds for generations continue to do so. In science, one can point to advances in genetics, biotechnology, or particle physics; in mathematics, work in areas such as "chaos theory" and wavelets (fields that are greatly aided by computer programming, not hindered) shows that new ideas are still forthcoming. In literature, there are many wonderful recent books: to give just one example, I highly recommend Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full. The older fields of intellectual endeavor are not dead. The Internet has not changed them.

    Even if many bright minds are attracted to Internet-based industries, is this necessarily bad for society? Not everyone working on the Internet is doing useless work. Some are simply doing things people have always done, but in a new way: e-commerce is one example, sites that present news are another. These people are merely engaging in traditional activities, but using technology to do them more efficiently.

    Use of the Internet is not limited to surfing the web and chatting on ICQ. Certainly these activities are not beneficial to society, but the people who spend their time chatting on ICQ would probably be chatting on the telephone if the Internet did not exist. They are not stealing time away from useful work. Much useful work is also accomplished on the Internet.

    I disagree with the idea that people who spend their time working with technology could be running the country. Being intelligent does not give one the capability to lead a people. There is more to leadership than intelligence; furthermore, skill in and knowledge of politics is a very different thing from skill in, say, writing Perl scripts.

    I will agree that many of those involved in politics are inept; however, I believe this situation has persisted for centuries. The advent of the Internet did not suddenly draw intelligent people away from the political arena and into cyberspace. The skills needed to write efficient computer programs are very different from the skills used in winning votes, or in persuading others to vote for a particular measure. Rhetorical skills and programming skills, while often sharing a basis in logic, have only a narrow area of overlap. While some people may be gifted in both, it is rare that techonologically skilled people would do well in politics.

    What would today's programmers be doing, if not programming? This is an intriguing question. Perhaps they would be mathematicians or scientists. Are these activities necessarily more beneficial to humanity than programming? I do not think so. A computer scientist who works on seemingly abstract problems may discover a method that has tremendous applications to another field. In fact, I believe that the computer "revolution," if it should be so called, has its most powerful applications in mathematics and science. As others have pointed out, engineers can make use of computers for simulations. In all fields of science, computing power has the capacity to dramatically decrease computational time and can allow rapid testing of theories. This does not only aid "rich people" who sit in front of computer screens every day; it aids anyone who, for instance, drives a car or takes a flight in an airplane. The Internet aids researchers in modelling problems, rapidly disseminating information, and communicating solutions.

    Could the average user of the Internet be devoting his time to solving agricultural problems for Third-World countries? I doubt it. That is a task for experts in agriculture. The skills needed are entirely different.
    Speaking in generalities about the Internet is much a mistake as speaking generally about, for instance, books. Books in themselves are neither good nor bad. Individual books may contain misinformation; they may be poorly written; they may be popular, but contain little of real value. Still, there are many great books: works of literary value, like The Sound and the Fury; works of historical importance, like Uncle Tom's Cabin; works of philosophical value, like Camus's The Stranger; or informative works like Numerical Recipes in C. To say that "books are good," or "people who write books could be running our country instead," is absurd. To say the same things about "computer geeks" is similarly absurd. The diversity in web sites and computer programs should be viewed in the same manner as the diversity in books. There are many web sites which are quite useless; others are brilliant, artistically or intellectually. Many computer programmers may do little useful work, but I would define good programmers as those who accomplish useful tasks, by writing code that benefits business users, or helps home users become more accustomed to techonology, or aids artists or musicians in their work, or helps a mathematician visualize a problem, or does some other form of useful work. In other words, good programmers do things that help people, just as good politicians do. It is incorrect to say that a good programmer could help people more by becoming a politician, just as it would be clearly wrong to say that a good mathematician should become an anthropologist. People can benefit society in many ways, and it is no one should designate the way someone else uses his or her time. Any argument which attempts to state that people who use their time tinkering with computers or writing code are wasting a brilliant mind could be applied in an analogous manner to any intellectual pursuit, and would be just as wrong. Computer science is not unique among academic fields. Attempt to apply the argument that the Internet is a waste of time to, say, painting. Could not brilliant artists like Picasso have better served the world by working on Artesian wells? Anyone can see the absurdity of this question. Now ask yourself: is it really any different than the question of whether a computer programmer should be working on Artesian wells? I believe the answer is "No." The Internet is not a "Brain Drain." It is a techonological tool that, in the future, will be viewed just like other tools (the television, the pocket calculator, the wheel). It will be used without second-guessing its usefulness.
  • by bolie ( 39110 ) <bolie4@nospam.gmail.com> on Sunday October 31, 1999 @10:34AM (#1574278) Homepage
    Wow... this is one of the most blatant examples of Internet/geek community arrogance I've seen. I've worked as a sysadmin and as an engineer and I know quite a number of people in quite a number of fields and I have not noticed that any one particular group is generally more intelligent than any other. I certainly haven't noticed that people on the Internet are particularly intelligent.

    Right now, I'm working at an engineering company with a number of engineers who range in age, experience, and familiarity with the Internet. While many of the intelligent ones have figured out how to use computers to help them engineer, many of them aren't particularly interested in computers or the Internet.

    The engineering work we do requires a lot of problem solving, spatial visualisation, and understanding of physical stresses and fluid flows. It's not easy and requires a certain kind of thinking that many people can't do.

    The auto industry is currently spending a lot of money and has many talented people working on ways to make cars more efficient. If they could charge $100,000 for a car, they could already build them. They are limited by government regulations, the market, and physics. Automotive engineers aren't a bunch of morons stumbling around in the dark waiting for some Internet guru to point out the solution to their problems. While many people think that there is some big conspiracy between auto companies and oil companies to keep gas prices up and sell big cars, any auto company would love to develop technology which reduced their dependency on gas and gave them an edge over the others.

    I love computers and the Internet and think that a lot of the research being done is really cool. I just want to point out that there are plenty of smart people who are doing other things, some using computers, some not.

    This is not intended to be inflammatory but is a response to an attitude I've seen more and more frequently.
  • by zambe ( 41536 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @10:33AM (#1574281)
    Although I agree that if there was not such a computer industry boom the people there (here) would be doing something else, I don't consider it as a bad thing in the long run.

    The advancements achieved in both hardware and software technologies make it faster and easier to develop the "more efficient Diesel fuel injection systems", "vehicles powered by fuel cells" and other things Roblimo mentioned. I'm pretty sure that modern fuel injection systems are totally dependent on embedded computers, to mention just one example.

    And what comes to the growth of the Internet and improving the life in third world, they are certainly not mutually exclusive. When the underdeveloped countries get more Internet connections it becomes easier to people there to get information on how to improve their lives: produce more food per acre, organize a revolution against the tyrannic government etc. Of course this is naively optimistic statement considering the amount of people who can't even read, but maybe those who can are able to distribute the knowledge to those who can't.

    When the computer industry growth slows down and stabilizes on the level of older industries those people who would today be internet entreprenours, software developers or hackers will choose something more interesting, build colonies in the moon or whatever, with the help of the technology developed by the computer/internet generation.
  • by galadriel ( 42210 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:44AM (#1574282) Homepage
    Not everyone is being sucked into the Internet. One of the most brilliant people I know programs because he wants to solve theoretical problems, not because he just wants to program. Sure, a lot of people are doing more with computers now--but a lot of them are because it's the best means to the end, and not the end itself. I don't think the Internet is sucking away all the best minds...just the ones who *want* to be there. And they'd probably be less happy elsewhere.

    I also have doubts that people whose expertise lies in computing would have efficiently and quickly have developed, say, better land transport... if only because it's difficult to get this sort of idea to the public, since the oil industry REALLY wants to squash it every time it's mentioned.

    And even if it's a toy, this internet thing does good things for lots of people. My entire family is online now, and I'm so much more in touch with them than I ever was when we had to use snail mail or long distance phone charges. It's brought us closer together, which is a Good Thing no matter how you look at it...

  • by brianvan ( 42539 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:00AM (#1574285)
    ...but in a slightly different manner. I believe that in ten years, everything that programmers do now will be done by programs. That is, programs will write programs. A lot of people will be out of jobs... not because of the programs that write programs, but because of some unforseen breakdown of the current high-demand for programmers. Those "programming programs" will be an eventual replacement for the millions that are out of work, as it would be much cheaper to have than hiring a 40-year old who needs to support a family. This will be possible because of Open Source, believe it or not - functional code will become a commodity, no longer being something that has to be researched, planned, and written in bits and pieces, line by line. Instead, massive code-generating AI-based assemblers will take a couple of strings from the user and use codebases on the net plus its own AI code-generation routines to make a whole program, bug free, with an appropriate and user-friendly GUI, database driven, QA testing as part of the program generation, and acceptably optimized. (after all, on your Pentium-XXV 6000Mhz your business apps are going to FLY so there's no need for real optimization work to be done)

    Sounds farfetched, doesn't it? I estimate ten years, maybe up to twenty. Whoever invents it will be the toast of the academic world but will be lynched by all the out-of-work techies. Once it's done, you can get the damn thing to write a bigger badass version of itself every now and then. (not really necessary if every program written is Open Sourced and placed on one of the aformentioned net codebases)

    If you've ever felt that your current programming job is monkey work, there's some infinite monkeys on the way...
  • Most people that work on Internet related projects do it because they like it. Sure, their are other issues, but if you look at very smart people, they tend to work exactly where they want to because they can. This leads one to think that rather then stealing a mind away from another industry, the internet has allowed a mind to work where it is happiest and thus most productive.
    You could have everyone in the world work on a cure for cancer. If you did I am sure a cure would be found much faster but at the same time the world would starve without food, freeze without power and in general fall apart. Lots of people would be working on a good thing but doing it very badly because they are don't like being a researcher. FED chief Allen Greenspan has been sited as saying that increased productivity of the american worker, especially in the technology industry, is one of the biggest reasons for our boom. People are most productive when they are happy. Smart people that are making a lot of money with internet companies are working where they are most productive. 100 years ago they might not be there. I am programmer. It is what I eat, sleep, and drink (to borrow from my company's ads). 100 years ago, I would have been doing something else but I know that I wouldn't have as productive because I wouldn't have been as happy doing anything else as I am programming today.
    There is no shortage of workers in other fields because too many "smart people" are going into the internet. To be honest, the opposite is true. Not enough very smart people are geting involved with the internet and the tech. industry in general. Companies are begging the government to raise immigration limits so that more IT people from other countries can help meet the demand. The demand is so high their are too many people in the IT industry that are not smart enough. Their are tons of people who never studied comp. sci. or EE in college working on important things in the industry. This opens the door for lots of buggy software and hardware and less productivity for people that use this technology. In the old days only a few elite people wrote a program or maintained a server. Now anyone that can run the Visual C++ tutorial writes applications. Anyone that can access the Windows NT Help runs a server. My mother's firm used the head of their accounting department because, "he seems pretty good with computers."
    Further proof of this opposite effect is the male to female ratio in most tech. jobs and in EE and comp sci. university classes. It is horrible. Millions of very smart women are not going into this industry and I feel it is for the wrong reasons. I do not believe it is because all of them just don't like it. Many are not exposed to it or are pushed away from it. This theme extends to math and science in general. It is still a widely believed but unproven thought that women are not as good in math and science as men. Garbage! It is a fact that statistics show men are called on far more often then women in math and science classrooms. This is a very real problem!
  • by lakdjfalkdj ( 49332 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:46AM (#1574292)
    Are you sure technology will ever stabilize?
    Even on Star Trek they're always making some modification or repairing something or another.

    Anyhow the thing I noticed the most about the technology industry is someone always wants something better or someone always wants some type of feature added into something. Even at work I would(almost) be out of a job if someone didn't want a change in something or another. I think it's perhaps the end users themselves that drive the speed at which technology moves. Perhaps one day no one would say, "Boy I wish this could do this" Perhaps one day no one will want anything new and be just content with they have. You're always going to have to change something, add something or remove something.

    Take my house for example it's had little things added and removed in it's life span(25yrs) and it STILL isn't "completed"-- the way we like it. There's always something you wish you had on the house or something different. For instance you may think, "Gee, I wish I had a wall outlet there" or "You know I want to have Green walls in the dinning room instead of White walls" It's the same concept with computers, everyone wants something a tad more convenient or a tad different or something that does whatever entirely different.

    So maybe our computers will work like they do on Star Trek. Although who's to say that when you're interfacing Data to the ships main computer something goes wrong? Just think of all the times they're modifying that stupid Doctor in Voyager? Or I could give you 100's or so of other eposides where life just ain't perfect. :)

    So really you can't create a perfect system from people who are imperfect. :)

  • by Profound ( 50789 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:43AM (#1574294) Homepage
    ...allow researchers from around the world to communicate with each other more easily. Thus the internet allows creative/intelligent people of all fields, not just computer science to interact and share their ideas amongst themselves.

    Thus the internet increases combined intellegence, rather than draining it away.
  • by Mc Fly ( 52238 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:48AM (#1574295)
    Disclaimer: I am writing from Buenos Aires, Argentina, South America, so I may be a little biased, but who cares...

    Yesterday I was at Expomanagement, which was running on Buenos Aires. There was a videoconference with Bill Gates and Nicholas Negroponte and all the gurues and sort like.

    They point that Internet Economy is helping South America and Asia... Whow!. It is quite sad than, despite the boom, in the last four years the number of people who died from starvation GROW in US.

    In South America, there is a great breach between poor and rich, and in Argentina only 400.000 people has Internet access (total pop is 35 million).

    I believe that this boom will only make US richer, because they benefit from having the initial advantage... South America can't repeat Taiwanese or Japanese boom... We will only geet poorer.

    The global economy will grow if and only you ppl realize than is in YOUR benefit helping Third World.

    Paul - Running a beautiful net of k6-2 & Imacs :)
  • by DocBear ( 52577 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @10:03AM (#1574296)
    Twenty-five years ago, the experts predicted that the number of programming and software design jobs would steadily decrease. The rationale was that as the tools improved and computer skills became more prevalent, experts in other fields would be writing the applications and that IT folks would only be needed to improve the tools.

    Now, the experts are predicting the same thing regarding tools for Internet applications.

    Meanwhile, the end users are still waiting for the productivity increases that would come from applications that allow them to do things the way they do them, rather then forcing them to change to adapt to the rigid structures enforced by the application software.

    The users have been thwarted by a succession of monopolies who have a financial interest in resisting significant change.

    I see hope in the current situation - not frustration or despair. We all know that the best software developers prefer to work on projects that interest them. Is it a coincidence that Open Source software is seeing a resurgence at the same time when so many good software folks are attaining relative financial independence? I think not.

    Look what some of the large software companies are doing to coax these folks into working for them - paid sabaticals to work on "personal" projects, relaxing the rules about work done in "free time", making company computer resources available for Open Source projects, etc. This is real progress.

    Look at the benefits being reaped, world-wide by such software efforts as Grass, as an example of how this software improves the life of many. Data presented through Grass has help with flooding predictions, drought predictions, pollution control, and many other areas. Now that Grass has been released through the GPL, I expect that it will improve significantly, especially in the UI area.

    The next step, of course is to free the data. This is increasingly important at a time where some are trying to lock it up and make it only available to a select few and at a high price. But awareness can thwart this move and make the data available to the public.

    I am optomistic. Even the discussion here and articles such as the one today in Silicon Valley Life play an important part in shaping the concept of social responsibility (and opportunity) for IT professionals.


  • by zairius ( 54221 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:28AM (#1574299) Journal
    I think it is a good thing... not necessarily because it makes people a lot of money, but that it networks a lot of people together. Information has and will always be a valuable comodity and it
    has become 'cheaper' to obtain for people on the Internet. This lower barrier to information can
    only help people gain the background information needed to dream up further improvements for mankind.

    Sidenote on jobs and the boom ending:
    I don't think wages will go down that much... what I think will happen is all the people who learned to program using those Learn Foo in 21 Days will finally be exposed and thrown out. Not to sound elitist but programming is not for everyone and requires certain kinds of thinking that many people just can not do.
  • by mochaone ( 59034 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:42AM (#1574312)
    This has got to be the biggest bunch of malarkey I've heard in quite some time. I can't believe that someone who appears to be quite normal would foist this nonsensical garbage upon us.

    Let me list some of Roblimo's pearls:

    1) Internet is spurring latest economic golden era.

    This is true. It can be compared to the junk-bond era of the '80s where a lot of paper wealth was created but not a whole lot of good came out of all those companies getting bought out and leveraged. I mean slashdot is cool and all, but exactly how has created anything economically? Glad to see Roblimo at least ackowledge that much.

    2) Internet boom-era has siphoned talent away from other fields, stagnating those fields.

    This is a comical assertion. First, Roblimo assumes that the development in the computer fields is somehow remarkable. What evidence does Roblimo present? There are a bunch of people smarter than Roblimo who have actually presented proofs to suggest that the explosive growth in technology is not extraordinary. To then suggest that the automotive and space fields have been slowed by this brain drain is meer suppostion. It'll take more than the two case studies Roblimo has presented here.

    I'm always amused by the articles that Roblimo and Hemos toss out there. They seem intent on mimicing John Katz by putting out articles that are gauranteed to generate debate, but the underlying issues are usually shallow and not thought out clearly.
  • by BenByer ( 59573 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:41AM (#1574313)
    I have to disagree. Many third world countries suffer, not because of the lack of farming (they are lacking, but many countries suppliment their crops with food) but from inept and corrupt governments.

    You also claim that most of the people you meet are much smarter. I really dont find this to be the case. Example: My schools compuer network. We support dial-in that has been broken for 3 weeks now b/c, well, no one is real sure what novell is doing right now. Example 2: the majority of computer software.

    I also feel that the internet and computer age is more than a boom. It is as big as the agricultural and industrial revolutions of the past. Eventually many jobs will be automated out and the humans left working will only be produing new information. We will not even be moving information at that point just making new stuff. Through computers we are on the brink of providing humanity with enough production capabilities and free time to either destroy us all, or finally achieve human unity and begin to expand our frontiers both physically and mentally.

    In essence I think the Information Revolution (which has barely even started) is one of the most important events in human history. I hope we respond to it correctly. Ben
  • by lamz ( 60321 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @09:18AM (#1574314) Homepage Journal
    "A computer engineer may make more money, but how does he affect the lives of millions in a real sense? I have yet to find _ANY_ software that helps my parents get on with their daily life."

    I believe that your argument is significantly in error here. Your assertion may be true when talking about applications intended for a PC or Mac, owned by a typical consumer, but is very very wrong when applications used behind-the-scenes are considered.

    I used to work for a company that produced medical records software. Shortly after we released a new version with improved searching capabilities, a diet pill was recalled. Doctors with the software were able to quickly find all their patients who used the pill and notify them to stop doing so immediately. Doctors with other software, or no computer, could tack a notice on the front door of their office and hope that the right people read it. Other than having the right medical records software, there was no other feasible way that those patients could be identified. That 'increased productivity' was just one example of computer software saving lives.

    Your parents are only unaffected by computer software if they have never: flown in an airplane, been hooked up to a machine in a hospital, benefitted from improved agricultural techniques, etc.--since all of these things are closely related to the quality of the software used in their design/production/use/improvement.

    It is easy to forget that the vast majority of computer programmers have nothing to do with the next version of Word or Quake. They and their software are VERY MUCH affecting the world, every day.
  • by cdlu ( 65838 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:33AM (#1574322) Homepage
    Every generation has its intellectual magnet. It used to be industry, then it was the war machine, and now its the internet. Each one has been a direct result of the previous, and the next boom will take all the bright folks left from the internet world and move them on to the next step.
    And like industry, and the war machine, the internet will be left incomplete, and inefficient, but nevertheless there to stay.
    The next target of the geek community may be bio-technology, or it may be agriculture, or it may be something noone around today ever even thought of. But the way I see it, there is always a single place where the intelligencia go, and the second-raters will always be everywhere else.
    The geek world is like an antibody. It attacks a problem as it comes up, and doesn't let go until its solved. Soon we will see a new problem, and all pounce on it, leaving the internet in a precarious balance with only the second-raters taking it over.
    We've been there, we've done that, we'll do it again.
  • by fence ( 70444 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:28AM (#1574330) Homepage
    This article has some very good points on where our productivity and creativity has been focused. However, there are many professions that make use of the efforts that have gone into computer science over the past several decades.

    Bad example, but look at the tools that animation designers have available now vs. 5, 10, 20 and 50 years ago.
    What about simulation? Engineers can design-test-refine aircraft, bridges, automobiles, almost anything without having to build a prototype...

    gotta run, but this is an interesting article.
  • by Gladiator ( 77646 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:41AM (#1574337)
    Actually, I'd put a further angle on it and suggest that this sort of thinking is prevalent in the U.S. where money is automatically equated with success and intelligence.

    Based on this premise, with so much money being made at the moment in internet-related jobs, the people doing these jobs are regarded, and regard themselves as correspondingly intelligent.
  • by JustCause ( 83255 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:30AM (#1574341)
    I've had my run in with various people in both the computer science department at my school here and with the political science department also... The last straw that broke me away from the computer science department was the lack of openmindedness. The simple fact that you can look at something from many angles and do it a "different" way than the norm caused most teachers to simply mark it wrong since it was not the same answer as the book. Originality is not lacking in computers, most definitely not... But its all along the same thread... Take an existing something and modify it, not say, take someone's idea, and someone else's, and another's, and make something totally new out of it.
    For all the hackers/crackers/cyberpunks/curious people out there, I remain amazed by you desire to change the system, and I do agree with many points. But the only thing is, just imagine if all of you studied the system you're trying to fight and fight them on their own ground... If you put that same desire into political science rather than computer networks... Not only might it increase you chances, but you'll get out more and meet more people... The freedom provided by the Internet is not real... Just my food for thought...
  • by Mr Donkey ( 83304 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:37AM (#1574342)
    While it may seem like everybody in computer/internet-related fields are exceptionally bright, it is not true that all exceptionally bright people are drawn into computer/internet-related fields.
    Every field has it's exceptionally bright. Be it agriculture, the arts, biology, computer science, chemistry, physics, education, engineering. Proof of this is available at your nearest University. There will always be some who are exceptionally bright and an endless source of creative ideas. They are not all in computer/internet-related fields. I wouldn't even say that the majority of exceptionally bright people are in computer/internet-related fields
    This brings me to your second point, that once this "internet-boom" is over, what will one do. If as you say, most comp/net-related workers are bright, I'm sure they will find something to do to put the bread on the table. They may not have as comfortable a lifestyle as they currently do, but they will survive.
    But I do agree that many (might I say majority) of our political figures are unfit to run this country, be it your town's mayor or the country's president.
  • by BlackDouglas ( 84997 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:12AM (#1574343) Homepage
    "Internet Brain Drain" is simply one small part of an even larger problem: "Profit Brain Drain."

    The best and the brightest are going into business, because Western "Civilization" values a person based on the size of their paycheck. Currently, the Internet is the way to go, and it attracts many of the best minds.

    Money isn't, in and of itself, the problem; where we stray is in the glorification of oppulence, in our fascination with useless celebrity, with the implied goal of becoming the next Bill Gates. The media feeds the frenzy, and the frenzy feeds the media, in a feedback loop that pushes us higher and higher into the stratosphere of greed, farther away from our fellow man and the evolution of a wise society.

    Consider AIDS research. Various companies are all working on proprietary vaccines and cures; scientists at these companies do not exchange ideas, because doing so might dilute their employer's exclusive claims to a profitable product. If Company A has one part of the cure, and Company B has the second part, the twain are unlikely to meet, and the complete solution is delayed or never realized.

    I've been in third world countries; subjects like "Linux vs Windows" and "Is Java a Useful Tool?" don't have much meaning there. Hell, "Ford vs Chevy" and "Is Gore boring?" don't have much meaning there either! What matters is clean water, good food, and a safe place to live. But for the most part, humanity's ills can't be solved with a quick rewrite of the code or a run through the debugger. I wonder sometimes if I enjoy programming because it gives me a sense of power and accomplishment; my journeys into the "real" world have often left me feeling helpless and incompetent.

    We have this very odd sense of predestination in Western "civilization" -- if someone is poor, they must somehow deserve it. We expect people to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps", failing to realize that they don't have any boots.

    I'll bet there's some Navajo kid, living in a trailer that lacks plumbing, who'd put me to shame as a programmer -- but he'll never get the chance, because he'll never have a computer to learn the skills. It isn't his capability that matters, it's his lack opportunity.

    Certainly this isn't a modern problem, and you can't lay blame at the foot of the Internet -- but if we are ever to attain civilization, we must begin to solve these problems, finding a way to focus our best minds on what really matters.
  • by Yeshua ( 93307 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:31AM (#1574358)
    Recently (in an ethics course at University) we were asked if "The continued growth of the Online Society and the power it gives participants to create an augmented reality is a positive step for humankind. " I think the answer I gave in the debate is the same here, we must focus on the part that says IS a positive step, unfortunately most people seem to see one example of the usefulness and success of the internet and assume that the entire conglomeration is like this, where, in truth, there are both positives and negatives associated with it, and not just within the field. Take for example the stories found in J. Katz's Voices from the Hellmouth (somewhere on Slashdot), the internet can have a profound effect on society, unfortunately, people are slow to recognise that this isn't necessarily a good thing. The success of Silicon Valley is not the same as the success of society, or even America.
  • by Sam_Grey ( 93599 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:26AM (#1574360)

    The technology isn't meaningless, it is the use to which we put the technology that is meaningless. Perhaps, I am not a good enough capitalist but I think we all need more than simple monetary gain to be able to live our lives "guilt-free". I am sure many of us have been in that situation when we haven't seen our family all week (or longer) and find ourselves called in to work on the weekend knowing full well that we have lost another chance to spend time with the ones we love. How much worse is it when you sit and realize that you are there in order to make sure that the sales reports get completed on time, or that the production planning team has the information they need to buld more product to make the corporation money. Somehow, when I equate the two, my career comes up short.

    That is to say if my career purpose was simply to manage the systems of, or create software for, some corporation's bottom line. The truth is that I greatly enjoy using and creating tools that the technology boom has made availavble. It is a passion of mine (and probably a good many of you) to say the least, but in that passion I still realize that they are tools. It is how I use those tools that actually affects society.

    Corporations wish to pay us a lot of money for our skill in using and building these tools, and I, for one, am willing to take their money. There are other uses for these tools, however. Creating and interconnecting society, helping those who felt alone find people with similiar thoughts and dreams, providing a open arena for the safe and free transfer of knowledge; these are the airy (and perhaps naive) purposes to which I hope to be a part of in some small way.

    I believe that this is what many of us in this field are doing; collecting the money while keeping our eyes on our own dreams and goals. We want the ability to provide for ourselves and our family but we also wish to do more. Some will build systems for medical advancement, other for offering help for the the lost. While it may sound trite, we are only limited by our imagination. Given the skill of the people here and elsewhere within the field, I think we are going to do fine.

  • by orkysoft ( 93727 ) <orkysoft AT myrealbox DOT com> on Sunday October 31, 1999 @10:08AM (#1574363) Journal
    >Are you sure technology will ever stabilize?

    No, I'm not sure. I'm not even sure whether I want to be sure about that. It does interest me enough for me to try to find out. IMHO, this forum is about as good as it gets to discuss this.

    I think some technology will eventually stabilize.
    Take the weel for example. It's always been more or less round, of course. The first weels were probably made of wood (or rocks in cartoons), and did not have fancy things like spokes. Later wheels did have spokes or holes in them. Even air-filled rubber tires.
    I don't think we'll have a major wheel-technology revolution coming up any time soon... though transport as a whole might be indeed revolutionized yet.

    About the Star Trek episodes: ever noticed that they have problems with copying data? The can move the Doctor's program, but when some alien ship tries to download him, the crew is afraid they will lose him. Does this have to do with copyright legislation?

    $ cp foo bar
    cp: access denied due to copyright restrictions.
    $ su -c "cp foo bar"

    The Star Trek crew does occasionaly fine tune some devices, but I don't see them reinstall all software anytime... or switching to a radically different OS... Hmm... whenever the ship is hit, you can see a Blue Screen enveloping it... Not good...

    About your house: the house itself (walls, doors, ceilings, roof, floor) is made with established, stabilized technologies. Bricks have been in use for millennia. Walls and roofs have been in use for millennia, for that matter.
    The doorbell, cable tv connection, radio antenna, POTS socket: these things are standardized, stabilized technologies, and they just WORK, don't they?
    Things like computers, ISDN, ADSL or cable modem Internet connections aren't part of the established technology yet, though ISDN is becoming one. Computers seem to have standardized on Intel x86 architectures, due to Evil Marketing (tm).

    I think it would not be bad if there would be a time when a cheap CPU could perform adequately in even the most demanding of games, and that there would be something like a "Standard Computer" consisting of parts that are adequate enough for >95% of the users. It would run software adequate enough for >95% of the users.
    My only problem with this is, that Windows seems to be becoming this standard. Too many companies are already treating it like that.

    Btw, why is the first half of your text readable, and WHY does the M$ moron kick in in the latter half? All those question marks... ?!I just don?t get it?!
  • by orkysoft ( 93727 ) <orkysoft AT myrealbox DOT com> on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:32AM (#1574364) Journal
    I think it is a good thing when the technology stabilizes. Things will become more easy to setup, and will have to work reliably to be successful.

    Just take a look at Star Trek, or any other SF series: the computers just work. No ifs, buts or device drivers. They work. That's what most people will want anyways.

    When the Internet has stabilized, and anyone anywhere can get a connection for a few bucks, I think this 'investment of genius' we are now doing, will pay off: everyone will be able to share ideas and opinions, and stay informed. That is not the case in the Third World at all at this moment. I think this increased equality will increase the rate of development in the 3rd World.

    (There weren't any other comment when I wrote this (First Post! Woohoo! Ahem), so I am interested in your opinions. Maybe I'll refine mine when I read yours.)
  • by briancarnell ( 94247 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @09:48AM (#1574365) Homepage
    Come on:

    "Imagine how much better life in third-world countries would be if just a fraction of the intelligence and energy that have gone into building the Internet had been applied to subsistance-level agriculture. Or if some of the high-ability, high-concept managers who have been drawn to Internet and computer businesses had gone into politics. I don't think there would be nearly as much hunger and misery in the world if so much talent hadn't been sucked into computers and the Internet. "

    Really? The two major places where people are seroiusly dying from hunger right now are a) North Korea -- a close Communist totalitarian dicatorship; b) Sudan -- a country that has had a civil war for 40 years and tolerates slavery.

    Please explain how your Unix engineer friend would have been able to solve these problems.

    This seems to me an example of the hubris of computer geeks in general. Solving something like world hunger is not like solving a technical problem -- in fact treating social problems as technical problems is one of the worst methods in the world to truly solving them.

    What is weird is the implication that providing good data services is not real work. I'm not a big fan of McNealy, but why would you want him to waste his obvious talents by going into something as ridiculous as politics?
  • by BobandMax ( 95054 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:23AM (#1574366)
    This is a good example of setting up a fallacious premise and then knocking it down. In logic, it is called a "straw man argument."

    As another poster noted, skill sets are not universally transferable. People are oriented toward different areas. Perhaps many of the people involved in IT and the internet would be mediocre and unhappy performers in another endeavor if the 'net did not exist.

    You also miss another important point, motivation. There is one big reason why so much time, attention and manpower is devoted to the 'net. It is money. Whether you like it or don't, whether that is your personal motivation or not, that's the root. The smell is strong and the feeding frenzy is on. If you don't believe it, try putting together a startup to manufacture irrigation pumps for third-world farmers who cannot pay for them. The result is obvious.

    The market determines winners and losers far more efficiently and ruthlessly than morality, ideals, governmental intervention or any other suasion. You may not like it. You may want people to more guided by concern for others. There has always been a percentage of such people, like Mother Theresa, God bless her. The vast majority will, as observed by Von Heyich, act in their own interest.

    The internet is a boom phenomenon and will diminish in intensity, gradually settling into a business area like many others. For now, the main effort is to determine what works. When there is a consensus about the models that are most efficient and lucrative, then the industry will have matured and be a lot less fun.

    For a fairly close analogy, take a look at the development of television. When tv started to become popular, very bright and gifted people were involved in the development. Early tv was highly experimental and some of the best work ever seen was done in those years. But, as soon as the money men found out that soap flake manufacturers were willing to pay to air commercials, money started to shape the medium. Turn on your tv today and take a look at what passes for entertainment. It certainly does not look like the "best and brightest" are involved now. Although the technical end is still managed by very sharp folks, the ones running the show don't display much more than avarice.

    Intellectually gifted people tend to be motivated by achievement for its own sake, but the real power comes from those who finance it.

    "Computers are useless. They can only give you answers."
  • by skidt og kanel ( 97864 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:42AM (#1574373) Homepage
    A major downside to the rapid growth and economic role of the internet is that it causes all of our governments to want to impose rules, taxes, and such on all websites.

    Why shouldn't the same rules apply on the Internet as everywhere else?

    I think that most of what is going on on the Internet already is covered by various laws. The only problem that actually remains is which country rules where. I think the current system where the physical location of a server is impractical, because most people are unable to find out which country the server they are visiting is located in.

    One possibility I think it could be worthwhile to consider is "we accept that all disputes with visitors located in are subject to the laws of " certificates that webmasters could put on their servers (if they want to do business with people in ).

    IMHO the internet is a place where people should be truly free. as in: no copyright, trademark suits, no patened technology, etc.

    Just like the American wild west? Anybody can cheat anybody? Shut down their web site? Run of with other peoples money?

    I don't like that idea at all!

  • by Above ( 100351 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:59AM (#1574380)

    The counterpoint to the argument of "would non-internet activites be better without the internet draining resources" is "are those non-internet activites better because of the internet?" For the sake of argument, I will assume internet related activities are draining resources from other fields, which is something I don't actually believe. However, even if we assume that is true, there might be some surprising results.

    An example used is could the internet brains make a more efficient engine, reducing polution. Perhaps. However, could it be that moving documents electronically, rather than on paper, has reduced the need for engines to move those items, resulting in a greater reduction in emissions than if they were just made more efficient?

    Could the internet be offering jobs to those who might otherwise be unable to find work? Absolutely. I know of several companies that send audio data to countries that often have a lower standard of living, where they have people who transcribe them into electronic text. What makes these jobs possible is the ability to quickly move the data, it could never happen with traditional transportation. Is it taking advantage of poor workers, perhaps. Is it giving them opportunity they wouldn't otherwise have, absolutely.

    On CNN the other day they said 60% of the world population has never talked on a telephone. Calling grandma on christmas is not going to provice the economic justication to correct the technology imbalance. Opening up new markets, new sources of labor, and creating previously inconceivable possibilities will draw the capital to provide many more people access to a telephone.

    It is my believe that the positive impact of the net will (if not already) outweigh the negative impact of it drawing people and attention away from other problems. Even if there is not a net positive impact now, it may be that we have to take a small step backwards in order to take a great leap forward.

  • by pigiron ( 104729 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:18AM (#1574390) Homepage
    and only matches your ignorance.

    First of all what makes you think that the best engineering minds are NOT working on hybrid diesel-electric cars? What ever gave you the impression that software engineers with their SLOPPY, LAZY, bug-ridden systems (let's think of the average implementation of the TCP/IP stack as a typical example) can do a better job on world level problems than other people, let alone hardware engineers?

    As far as Silicon Valley businessmen go: I don't think the poor benighted folks in Washington D.C. can hold a candle to the likes of Larry Ellison in terms of dishonest and sleazy practices. Remember Oracle booking sales they hadn't really made? Obviously not or you wouldn't have held them up as an example of how we should get to the moon. Permanent lunar colonies with the Apple business model? Get a grip.

    BTW, the best minds have worked on substinence agriculture. Ever hear of the Green Revolution? If India wants to solve its poverty problem its going to have to do it itself. As you might notice there is no dearth of intelligence on the sub-continent if the number of Indian Nobel prize winners is any indication. The problems they have run deeper than that. In fact, the internet seems to be a vehicle FOR increasing wealth in the Third World *NOT* something they should be running away from.

    Scott McNealy for president? Give me a break... The half-baked libertarianism of Silicon Valley types is nothing new. Especially when they trim their free-market sails and call for import restrictions against foriegn competition, or selective application of anti-trust and restraint of trade laws against their competitors. They show their true greedy colors when the insist on unrestricted immigration so they can drive-down U.S. labor rates. I would have thought you'd be against this fundamental Silicon Valley belief in order to keep all those Asian engineers at home to work on substinence farming projects.

    Your "dream" is really more of a nightmare. Happy Halloween.
  • by pigiron ( 104729 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:40AM (#1574391) Homepage
    First of all what makes you think that the best engineering minds are NOT working on hybrid diesel-electric cars? What ever gave you the impression that software engineers with their SLOPPY, LAZY, bug-ridden systems (let's think of the average implementation of the TCP/IP stack as a typical example) can do a better job on world level problems than other people, let alone hardware engineers?

    As far as Silicon Valley businessmen go: I don't think the poor benighted folks in Washington D.C. can hold a candle to the likes of Larry Ellison in terms of dishonest and sleazy practices. Remember Oracle booking sales they hadn't really made? Obviously not or you wouldn't have held them up as an example of how we should get to the moon. Permanent lunar colonies with the Apple business model? Get a grip.

    BTW, the best minds have worked on substinence agriculture. Ever hear of the Green Revolution? If India wants to solve its poverty problem its going to have to do it itself. As you might notice there is no dearth of intelligence on the sub-continent if the number of Indian Nobel prize winners is any indication. The problems they have run deeper than that. In fact, the internet seems to be a vehicle FOR increasing wealth in the Third World *NOT* something they should be running away from.

    Scott McNealy for president? Give me a break... The half-baked libertarianism of Silicon Valley types is nothing new. Especially when they trim their free-market sails and call for import restrictions against foriegn competition, or selective application of anti-trust and restraint of trade laws against their competitors. They show their true greedy colors when the insist on unrestricted immigration so they can drive-down U.S. labor rates. I would have thought you'd be against this fundamental Silicon Valley belief in order to keep all those Asian engineers at home to work on substinence farming projects.

    Your "dream" is really more of a nightmare. Happy Halloween.
  • by Wooly-Mammoth ( 105587 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @10:51AM (#1574395)
    There are 2 massive flaws in this article -

    1) The author takes the thousands of people working on the internet, asks us to remove the internet out of the equation, and then places those people in jobs designing Artesian desert pumps and space engines. In reality, the people working today on the internet would be doing what they were doing 10 years ago, when almost NOBODY was working on the net. They were writing mainframe programs, client/server stuff, graphics design brochures, etc.

    This is the same mistake that Cliff Stoll made when he said "If people weren't wasting their time chatting online or reading crappy web sites, they would be planting tomatoes, helping sick children in hospitals, or studying books". In reality, they would be lying on the couch drinking beer and watching the Simpsons.

    2) The bigger flaw in the article is that it assumes the net helps only the elite, and then the author gives an example of 2 people in fairly elite positions in an elite society to make his point. However, if he were to look at a lot of the developing world, the net is HUGELY helpful. Governments in Asia are using email to cut down on bureaucracy, human rights dissidents are more effective than ever, to the point where even Singapore has decided not to censor the net as it used to, and because of the net, businesses are booming way, way more rapidly than the glacial pace common in those countries. Just read newspapers from around the world (on the net, of course) for a good insight into this phenomenon.

    Saying the internet only helps idiots in elite positions to waste time is a little like a nineteenth century author pondering that electricity is useless for the masses - after all, the people he spoke to in the palace used it to glaze their succulent cakes.

    The net is becoming an infrastructure pipeline that will be present everywhere at all times, like electricity. To claim that it won't be useful for the masses at large is losing sight of the fact that it provides what people have aspired to for ages - instant communication.

  • by Jabez ( 106416 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @07:56AM (#1574398) Homepage
    There are huge advances that could be made to car technology; the trouble is they take huge investments of capital to work on and bring to market.

    Internet technology is currently providing the most efficient return on investment. Capitalism is, at best, amoral; money doesn't go where it would have the greatest benefit to society. It merely goes where it would be of the biggest benefit to the investor. It tends to self-serve; there may be some side-benefits to wider society, but they are incidental.
  • by Ichoran ( 106539 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @08:18AM (#1574399)
    There are certainly a lot of very bright people in IT fields. However, as a graduate student in biology at a major research university, with friends in the math, physics, and engineering departments, I can attest that there are plenty of bright people left to do other important things.

    I am not particularly concerned about IT draining the talents of the very brightest away from other, more important pursuits simply because almost no-one can be the very brightest in multiple fields. For instance, I know mathematicians who can run rings around every programmer I know when it comes to making deductions from large sets of highly abstract definitions. That's what mathematicians do, and some of them are very good at it and like it. I know biologists who are far better at recalling tons of minute detail about apparently unrelated processes than any programmer I know. And so on. And, of course, most of the biologists and mathematicians couldn't write a device driver to save their life.

    Actually, amusingly enough, most of the scientific fields are actually too crowded, biology especially. It's not clear that without IT there would be more demand for people in those fields. So I'm not sure that we're losing too much talent.

    If there is a loss, it seems to me to be mostly a second-tier loss. The very few very best are still doing what they're best at, but a lot of the next best are going into IT for the money. It's now a viable alternative to medicine or law or finance, if you can handle it. The implications are that a lot of bright people are going to be off making money instead of doing something useful. Gee, when has that ever not been true? Think of all the wonderful developments we'd have if lawyers all had been working on vaccines and antibiotics!

    Besides, IT is genuinely useful. When it stops being genuinely useful, there will be less money in it, and people will go back to being lawyers or stockbrokers or maybe even virologists.

    (The real danger, it seems to me, is that the internet can be a great productivity-sapper as well as a productivity-enhancer. Why, right now, some biologist is probably posting to slashdot instead of doing their research!)

  • by phatlipmojo ( 106574 ) on Sunday October 31, 1999 @12:07PM (#1574401)
    The capacity of my fellow geeks to think that they are the only smart people in the world never ceases to amaze me. In this month's (last month's? I get confused so easily these days) Wired, there is a brief mention of some fifteen-year-old kid who is making money off of a couple websites, and who takes programming classes at the local college because he aced all the computer classes at his high school. In the three sentences (maybe less, I don't have it in front of me) that they quote from this kid, he manages to say that "until recently, [he'd] never met a smart 40-year-old." I think this perspective is pretty typical of computer-wiz-types, especially the young ones--lord knows you see it daily in Slashdot and the various 'net resources that serve open source communities (though I'm beginning to digress). Rather than imagine the possibility that someone might be smart about something other than C++, or consider that maybe he's too young to understand what goes on in a 40-year-old's head, he assumes that any 40-year old who has not dedicated his/her soul to IT/CS is of sub-par intellect.

    This is exactly the attitude that is displayed in this article. How DARE any of us think that we are the only smart people out there? The fact is, geekdom is a very insular world, and we are not in much of a position to speculate on the woes of other industries, or the potential impact we would have upon said industries if we weren't so busy getting a woody from Quake3.

    The fact is that IT/CS has grown at the rate it has grown because that is the rate at which it had the potential to grow. It is a field that a number of people who are smart (and vast multitudes of those who fantasize that they are smart) have cared about enough to dedicate their time to coming up with weird and ground-breaking ideas. I don't know enough about running for president or the efforts to curb the world's hunger problems to say, but I would bet that those involved are not simply a bunch of morons who didn't have the brains to work in computers. Our President, for instance, who most people (at least the vocal ones) seem to think is an idiot, was a Rhodes scholar from Georgetown. I know more than one arrogant IT geek who couldn't have gotten into Georgetown. Ever.

    The point I am belaboring so badly here is that TCP/IP and Java are not the only things in the world about which one can be smart, and encyclopedic knowlege of such does not indicate that one is smart about ANYTHING else. What the IT/CS community needs most, IMNSHO, is a concerted effort to get over itself.


Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"