I've read a number of essays recently that claim that the modern
information society makes people stupid. The print publication
industry is in decline, so people are reading fewer printed books,
magazines, and newspapers. These are replaced by the intellectual
junk food of the Web and television. The people who write these
pieces are passionate, articulate, refer to all kinds of studies,
quote all kinds of people, and I suspect get paid well to write
them. But it's all for naught because it's hooey.
If anything we have too much information at our fingertips.
Online publishing is replacing print publishing. Sorting it all out
and knowing what to believe becomes a larger problem than gathering
the information in the first place. To give a few small examples,
in the past few weeks I was able to research these things
And so on...just like most of us do when we want to know something.
In the olden days I would have made several trips to the public
library and the bookstore. I love libraries and bookstores. But I
don't visit them as much as I used to.
- Some wonderful fence and gate designs
- How to fix some scary bad plumbing
- Audio hardware that is both good-quality and supported in
- A number of definitions of words
- Some awesomely great airfares
- Some great video editing howtos
Now I can't make any grand claims about society going to heck in
a handbasket, and anyway I don't think it is, but I do have one
recent incident to illustrate how having all this wonderful access
to information doesn't replace being able to think things through.
I think that recognizing consequences is one of the most important
abilities to develop. Ignoring consequences, especially subtle
ones, create all kinds of problems. Sure, we learn not to touch hot
stoves in a hurry, but most of life's lessons are not that
As Plain As The Air That We Breathe
Out here in the sticks it's woodstove land. People love their wood
heat. It's dirty, it's more expensive than gas or oil, and as
two-thirds of the homes in my county are thirty-year old trailers
just begging to go up in flames, they're very hazardous.
Some friends put up their shiny new dream home last year, and
even though it is a modern house with all the bells and whistles,
their main heat source is a mondo wood stove. They build dirty
smudge fires that stink up the neighborhood, and it aggravates
their son's asthma. It turns the main room into a sauna and the
bedrooms freeze. So one day I asked why, since it's cost-effective
to put in solar on new construction, didn't they do that? Is this
not 2008, well into the new millennium? I got the blankest look in
reply. Even though they've been planning this house down to the
last detail for years it never occurred to them to go high-tech on
heating and cooling, or to look at alternatives to wood heat. Now
they're wishing they had.
Another odd thing they did (to me it was odd, that is) is site
their home to ingeniously block out most of their view. If they had
oriented it a little differently they would have had splendid
mountain views to enjoy all day long. Instead they have splendid
views of their ratty ancestral barn. Maybe they prefer that, I
don't know. At any rate if they ever sell their home they won't get
I imagine that most of us have had to deal with this sort of
lack of foresight in our tech careers; the bosses who penny-pinch
up front at a great long-term cost, refusal to investigate modern
technologies, customers who stick to what they know and don't want
to hear about changing anything, and so on. I reckon we've all
given in to impulse too often for comfort. It's a human thing, and
I don't have any brilliant solutions to offer. Just the observation
that as always when dealing with humans, people skills seem to be
more important than technical skills.