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How the Internet Boom Harms Society

Roblimo posted more than 14 years ago | from the lost-in-the-mental-ozone dept.

The Internet 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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Roblimo for prez! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1574073)

heck, fill the whole whitehouse with the /. crew and the worlds problemd might be solved

I've got to agree with Rob (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1574074)

I've seen a lot of my friends in college end up in Internet-related fields. Psychology majors, chemical engineers, lawyers - everyone seems to be ending up in the Internet sphere because that's where all the money is. Even me, and I was a lowly English major resigned to a life of poverty while writing the Great 21st Century Novel, except now I'm a web programmer. One day all the hype will dissipate and sanity will resume. But at least it's fun for now ...

Mankind = USA people? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1574075)

It seems that internet is really making people richer.. Well, I mean USA people. Most other countries will suffer with the "sucking" effect that globalized commerce will impose on them. How will small and poor countries counterpart the commercial appeal that USA will show up through the internet?

time and basic research (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1574076)

The internet boom is the tail end of the computer boom, which is the tail end of semiconductor development, which is the tail end of quantum physics research.

As long as there are bright people who AREN'T interested in computers, there will be somebody working on the Next Great Thing. We just need to make sure that there's a place for him/her to work in peace. In other words, keep funding university research. Maybe 99% of the bright people today are eschewing that path, but the 1% who really love their research will be responsible for putting food on the table in the next century and beyond.

But it'll take some time. How long after Newton before Maxwell's equations were discovered? You can't engineer breakthroughs. You can only provide a fertile environment and hope for the best.

Re:This whole article is flamebait. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1574077)

Uh oh. You mentioned _Atlas_.

You know what this means, don't you?

You're going to be flamed to no end by people who take issue with Ayn's philosophy, ignoring the fact that the general theme of the book (let people *do*!) is fundimentally sound.

But that's what you get when you wander into a political/philosophical debate.

I think. I can. I will.

the aim is freedom (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1574078)

i am very grateful to Linux and the Internet... i'm going to make around $250K this year working out of the house... when my financial goals are achieved, and i can get the wife to stop working, we will return this freedom to society...

Space (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1574126)

That's where I'm going. If I ever have 1% of the money Bill Gates has, I'm going to fund a manned mission to Mars, including a colony. My current involvement in computers is only because I happen to have had a bunch of opportunities in that area, and I really didn't see any realistic way I could get involved in space travel.

The Internet is the Peace Dividend (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1574127)

I remember the same kind of talk about 10 or 12 years ago on the eve of the end of the cold war. At that time, much of the nation's engineering and technology talent was engaged in things like SDI and other high-tech defense endevours, while the automobile industry was barely holding its own against the Japanese and the American consumer electronics business had already tanked, a victim of the Japanese.

Well, we know the rest of the story... The mighty Japanese electronics industry was undercut by Korea, Malaysia, and others, and Detroit, sobered by their experiences of oil shocks and the Japanese invasion, started to actually build cars that people wanted again. And all those laid off engineers and computer people who used to work for Westinghouse, General Dynamics, and the Pentagon, well many of them formed startups and that is the rest of the story ...

not a big deal (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1574128)

What does the internet do for business?
Well the view from the trenches is it just replaces a few older technologies.
Used to be.............,is now
Fax it....... it
Fedx it
Send a url please?
Staff email
Call them................Email them
Fly conference So all the web has really done:
Is replace the fax machine, catalog, To some extent fedx,
and cut down on staff meetings,
and reduce hold time, and Time spent in cars and on airplanes

Well said (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1574138)

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.

Boom doesn't change human nature. (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1574139)

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.

If Geeks ran the gov, it wouldn't be different (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1574140)

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.

a wee bit insular thinking here (4)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

Re:The question... (4)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

Re:I've been saying this lately myself... (4)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

95% Pointless ? (2)

euroderf (47) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574155)

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 !

Advancement Isn't Linear or Transferrable. (2)

volsung (378) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574168)

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.

Blasphemy! (2)

Bill Henning (504) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574169)

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?

Human thought is the most worthwhile thing of all (5)

Paul Crowley (837) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574171)

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.

It's very different... (3)

Masem (1171) | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

Technology runs on punctuated evolution (2)

heroine (1220) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574175)

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.

An ego-driven premise! (4)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

Too Comercial? (1)

FiNaLe (4289) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574187)

Borrowing a vision from Asimov, he pictured a world wide network of computers with access to vast libraries of information. As tools.
I would be thrilled to see more knowledge-centric projects set up on the internet, for example:
Project Gutenburg [] , it's a great thing, and a start in the right direction.
I think it's in these ventures that the internet will actually become welcomed and accepted as commonplace. Where my grandma or aunt Sue would have an opportunity to learn about places and things they otherwise wouldn't have, and without having to worry about managing the mechanics. In a perfect world I suppose...

Not so fast.. (1)

robbo (4388) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574190)

Dude.. don't kid yourself. The 'talented' people who drive the net are just as stupid and worthless as the dorks who run the auto industry (that is to say, that people are people). Your friend is an exception to this well understood rule. The big difference about the net is that it's an exceptionally efficient tool- it lets us collaborate in ways that were never before possible, the net result being rapid growth in net-related projects, but no improvement to your public health-care system or roads. Believe me, if open-source development applied to government or space exploration, we would have been to europa and back several times over, and maybe, just maybe Linus would be president. But, people being people, we'd probably end up electing Bill. (gasp!)

Th IQ rise (0)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574191)

Sorry, don't have the URL handy, you might find this on scientific american's site ... anyway, it's been proven that IQ has been and is rising continuously since the beginning of the century. This has been attributed to the higher exposure to brain-stimulating activities; think about it, being exposed to computers makes your brain bigger!

A well-thought out argument, but... (2)

otis wildflower (4889) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574192)

... 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,

Re:Another possible take.. (5)

otis wildflower (4889) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574193)

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,

The Brain Drain (1)

Qeyser (6788) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574197)

People are good at different things, and that tends to guide what they do in life. There are those that end up in the sci/tech industry: we tend to call them intelligent, but we do so, I think, to the exclusion of other "intelligences" that people can exhibit.

Re:The question... (2)

Signal 11 (7608) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574202)

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 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.


Where is the Mosaic of spaceflight? (1)

jab (9153) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574208)

If you've ever read Isaac Asimov's foundation, he talks of a society where technology and innovation is stagnating. Specifically, the two fields where humanity regresses are nuclear power and space travel.

Asimov's crumbing "Galactic Empire" was written in the 1950's and set thousands of years in the future. It's pretty easy to see the stagnation in these fields now. Earth's space programs peaked with Apollo, and the nuclear industry has been retreating for decades (and most people are happy about it).

The internet boom started was sparked by a single catalyst - a program written by Marc Andreeson and company that captured our imaginations. Somebody really needs to write the "Mosaic" of spaceflight.

There are bright sides too! (1)

Idaho (12907) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574215)

I have to agree with the author that the internet has it's bad sides. I even think that many of the points mentioned are valid for western civilisation in general (e.g. why do we build big cars, big houses etc. instead of helping the 3rd world countries?)

However, the author tends to mention only the 'dark side' of things, I can mention some bright one's too:

  • Without the internet, there would be far less Open Source software. I consider this quite important :)
    Open source software might also help the 3rd world countries, because it can lower the cost of having a 'modern' company.
  • It is great for educational purposes. Many old books that don't fall under Copyright law anymore are freely available on the Net (this includes most old philosophers).
    Not to mention how great it is when studying history.
  • ...

If you can't figure out how to mail me, don't.

I dont really agree (1)

siberian (14177) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574216)

Sure, there is a bit of brain drain, but I think that the internet provides a unique opportunity for people. It has a low cost of entry and who you know means nothing. Anyone can step in and go as far as they want regardless of their past history and, many times, experience.

Contrast that to the real world. In order to become a 'High level politcal staffer' you need to at least attend the 'almost right' college, take the right classes and meet the right people. Many times such people are raised around this sort of activity and thus know the 'ins and outs'. Its not something you can just pick up and say 'I am going to do this'. In addition, its not a sport that can attract individualistic intelligent people, I think for the most part that breed strains under the bonds of political life. Look at the few who have tried, the Jerry Browns and the Ross Perot's. They fail. There is a reason for that even though I do not know what it is.

What would internet folk be doing 100 years earlier? Probably operating telegraphs or using printing presses or tinkering with cars and the like. We are people who like the cutting edge whatever it is. If there is a problem to solve, we will solve it. This is a mindset that transcends time. Individualistic and Intelligent people will always find a way to prosper and will always take advantage of the future before the general populace gets wind of it.

Re:Isn't this what capitalism supposed to do? (2)

The_egghead (17079) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574221)

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"

I'll continue (1)

Jonas ÷berg (19456) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574229)

Even after the Internet boom, we will still have computers around, so I'd still be doing what I am doing today; making sure that people can use a computer without losing their freedom with proprietary software.
Sure, I've thought about giving up on it all and become a farmer. While I would probably be very happy doing that, I'd not be doing what I do best and I wouldn't feel good about that.

Isn't this what capitalism supposed to do? (3)

Bill the Cat (19523) | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

Hogwash (3)

dizco (20340) | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

Re:My own small story (5)

deranged unix nut (20524) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574235)

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.

unplug (5)

jilles (20976) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574237)

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.

I don't think it's an applicable argument (5)

Finni (23475) | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

Another possible take.. (5)

dave256 (24152) | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

Some thoughts (2)

LLatson (24205) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574243)

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.


Rob, the hole in your argument... (3)

ChrisGoodwin (24375) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574244)

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.

Re:Internet Boom a Good Thing (tm) (1)

sklib (26440) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574245)

I don't think the boom is going anywhere. The internet is just like an automobile. Too many people with too much money invested exist to let this die out. And besides, the development will probably never freeze, because there will always be new companies coming out with new crap to advertise and stuff. Computer science jobs are pretty safe, I think, until somebody fires off a crapload of EMP rockets at the US and fries every circuit. But then there'd be worse things to worry about.

If we channelled energy in different direction... (2)

sklib (26440) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574247)

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 [] , dell [] to some guy sitting in his basement [] . Also there is very available information [] , 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 [] , as well as thigns like
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?

Re:The question... (2)

sklib (26440) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574248)

The only profound effect that the net has had on society in general is that Joe User can now look up scores on 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.)

Capital (3)

vanyel (28049) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574253)

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.

For Every Thing There is a Season..... (2)

fornix (30268) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574257)

....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

This whole article is flamebait. (3)

rjreb (30733) | more than 14 years ago | (#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...

Tv Ads (2)

PovRayMan (31900) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574269)

Since 1998, I've gradually watched TV ads for websites rise. Now I'm seeing commercials that have many different people say stuff like, "We power the interet." Then they spam a site. I don't understand what the hell that has to do with powering the internet. Stuff like that just downright pisses me off. Its a waste of 30 seconds that could be advertising some caffeine product.

- PovRayMan

Re:disagree (1)

hph (32331) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574270)

Well yes, in the future there will be lots of jobs just in the maintenance of web/net/server-space (just like any automated job you can think of now) When enough people of a nation has gotten enough free time/money to discuss what is on their mind, we will not only see a revolution in information, but also in democracy...(although this could include only those who can afford to spend time discussing problems of their nation)

Re:Another possible take.. (3)

hph (32331) | more than 14 years ago | (#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)?

I disagree with your theory. (2)

joshamania (32599) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574272)

I don't think the internet is a "Brain Drain". In fact, I think the internet is a Brain Enhancer. If we didn't have the internet, all of those brilliant people working in our universities would still be forced to disseminate their research via paper. The old publishing techniques were holding back the growth of technology in the same manner as hand written books before Gutenberg invented the printing press. The internet is just a tool, and programmers are tool-makers. Most software and hardware pertaining to the internet are not consumer goods. You are not producing cars or boats or blankets or food. This is not to say that tool making is not important, but don't believe for a second that all the good brains are working in the computer industry. I have a friend studying neuro-biology at the University of Illinois, and he is perhaps the smartest person I have ever met. He uses the internet, as a tool. It helps him communicate with the hundreds of others that are doing similar research around the world.

I'll even gather that that politician you talked to is much smarter that you believe. I've learned that people do not get to lofty career positions by being stupid. Because this guy does not think like a programmer does not mean he's dim. Of course, that's not to say that I respect his choice of career. Certainly he's not as smart as McNealy, but your really smart types are positioning themselves to run/own companies, not become President. It's too much hassle, and it doesn't pay squat. I'll probably be raking in more in a year than the President does before I'm eligible to be Pres-o-dent (age).


just wait... (5)

Haven (34895) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574275)

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'm not so sure (3)

galadriel (42210) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574282)

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...

I've been saying this lately myself... (4)

brianvan (42539) | more than 14 years ago | (#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...

Re:Amen-- There are more important things... (1)

Exantrius (43176) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574286)

Money is money. Everyone needs money. The President is the most prestigious job in the world. Not only is it the most powerful, but America couldn't function properly. True he doesn't get paid as much, but he controls the most powerful arsenal in history. Not only the power and prestige, the President, even the worst of them all, has made decisions that helped (and hurt) millions of people.
I was drawn to computers for love of them, not because of some "geek magnet" factor. Sure, I'm a geek, but for years I debated going into politics, medicine and just about every other job in the world.
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. For that matter, I haven't seen anything created in the past 6-10 years that was so much better for the average person, increasing productivity more than prior software available. My parents could use win31 better than win98, and their old excel works the exact same as the top of the line newest (which incidentally is a bitch to relearn after using an ancient version). I challenge you to find a dozen things in daily life that the normal person _Can't_ live without, which has been created in the past dozen years? Sure things have gotten better (cameras et al) but does that help feed the homeless? Does it divert wars?
Politics allows you to actually have a bearing on real life. To influence Everyone.
However, you're right, noone wants to go into politics now.


People are not forced into the Net (3)

soldack (48581) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574290)

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!

Re:End of boom (3)

lakdjfalkdj (49332) | more than 14 years ago | (#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. :)

Strange that this debate happened now .. (1)

Manifest (50758) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574293)

Yup.. it is strange that this debate happened now.. with me just about to graduate and going into the industry.

Makes me think twice..
Having chosen an IT field of job am I doing it just becos it is cool or as Rob put it, I feel that many/most brilliant ( Note I didn't say all.. will come to that later) pple are in that filed.

Now to come to the topic in had..

* Well pple are guided by their interest. U end up where u mind wnats to be working (atleast if u listen to it) It is true that any moderately clever guy will succeed in any job he takes. It is not just the case of IT guys. Maybe Rob had this impression becos, as he said most of his friends are IT guys !

* I have to really disagree when Rob says that all clever guys are in IT/computer fields. Ifd that was so I am sorry we would be dead by now. To name just a few concrete examples Stephen Hawkins, late Richard Feynman, Salman Rushdie and the list goes on..

* Rob brought the point of CEO of Sun well, how is it that he forgets the other CEO of other companies other than in IT field.

To sum the above points, IT guys are very intellignet guys, but pardon me they ar enot the only intelligent ones. It is another matter that most politicians are stupid !

BTW is Rob facing a mid life crisis ?? :)
An oft asked questions in interviews is "What would you have done if u weren't in this xxx field u are in right now" ( substitute xxx with IT in this case). Looks like Rob wanted to inform the whole /.ers about his views..

I am all ears Rob.. way to go


The purpose of the internet was to... (3)

Profound (50789) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574294)

...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.

The Economy Boom is not a Boom (5)

Mc Fly (52238) | more than 14 years ago | (#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 :)

Internet Boom a Good Thing (tm) (5)

zairius (54221) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574299)

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.

Why we are important (1)

xmedar (55856) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574303)

Throughout history humanity has being going upward, like a bellcurve extending upwards and at the same time the base extending ever outwards. The Net is important, and /. is as well, at the top end, and here is why. The Net allows people to communicate without skin colour, without nationality, without religious bias (it had to be said), we are equals for once. As for /. one of my freinds who is doing a masters degree in sociology has gained much from The Hellmouth series and various other articles on here, and so do we all, I think you might be surprised in 5 or 10 years at the effect that this forum has had on many aspects of life in general, this is a place for ideas, and discussions about our collective future. Now I agree with you about politicians, most are not like the readers and contributors on /. and I dont think that the present type of politics is designed for the people with the best approach to get elected. I see no point in going into politics, my ideas might work, but I dont come with any ideology, I dont support ideas that are there to make people feel comfortable, I ask questions rather than dispense quick, simplistic answers. Politics is slow and clumsy, those creating the technology for the future are speedy, pinpoint accurate, and can easily overwhelm politicians when they get in the way as in the defeat of the Clipper chip and all the Net censorship bills. For a taste of where we are going check out the following article about Ashoka which supports social entrepreneurs, and they have a web site too :- tm

Just remember, we are part of a process, we stand for the future and though most of our names will never be recalled in a century, they will remember what we built together.

Re:The question... (2)

mochaone (59034) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574310)

Listen, the internet is not some distinct entity that lives off on its own. It is part of society. The internet alone can't change society. Rather, it is the people behind the internet who feel empowered by the ability to create virtual soap boxes who will instill change.

Remember, the internet is a medium . Granted, it is a powerful medium, but give credit to people.

What is Roblimo Smoking ? (5)

mochaone (59034) | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

disagree (5)

BenByer (59573) | more than 14 years ago | (#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

President Robin Limo (1)

cdlu (65838) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574321)

for(bool offtopic=true;offtopic=false;slashdot.comment()) { Hmm... Roblimo could drive himself in the motorcade - he already has the presidential limosine(sp?) :)

If we had Robin for president, do you think he'd overturn all the encryption laws? :)

Though I like the fact that, as a friend of mine puts it, the Canadian Prime Minister can be mugged as easily as I can. (Unlike the US.)

} // hmm...that sounds really disjointed.

Every generation has its magnet (5)

cdlu (65838) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574322)

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.

Re:Roblimo- Mr. Negativity (0)

Xkill_ (66601) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574323)

thank god we live in a world where women make a fraction of what men make:

Denmark women make 86% of men's pay
USA women make 76% of men's pay
Japan women make 50% of men's pay

Oh and thank god 50 of the top 100 financial entities are corporations, and that the richest 350 billionaires have more wealth than the poorest 40% of the world...

but dont take my word for it, do some research of your own, the results are scary.

Re:Isn't this what capitalism supposed to do? (1)

Xkill_ (66601) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574324)

You are right about this being capitalisms destiny, but the negative effects can be tremendous sometimes. Just look at the most recent Shell/Chevron atrocity. That is a prime example of capitalism at work.


internet isnt the only booming business... (2)

Xkill_ (66601) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574326)

Take a look at any of the other huge industries right now, automobile, oil, sugar, and beef. Take any of these industries and their resource, technology, marketing, research, and distribution departments, and you could make a great difference to many people. But that will never happen because of the cut-throat nature of our ideology. There are enough resources in the world to provide every person with the basic necessities, however there is not enough money for every person to pay for it at the prices asked by corporations and business. This point is further shown by the fact that governments around the world pay farmers to NOT grow food. And my favorite one is the way the US government has always reacted to foreign democratically elected governments, e.g. Chile, Nicaragua, Guatamala, Iran, Congo... the list goes on. Do any research on the history of any of these countries and you will know what i mean. Ultimately economics drive us and what we do, and until our ideologies change nothing will ever happen to solve world problems.

The bottom line is that the internet industry is not the only industry which could be taken apart and used to benefit human-kind.

I reccomend this book: GLOBAL PROBLEMS AND THE CULTURE OF CAPITALISM, by Richard Robbins

i'm not too sure (2)

swonkdog (70409) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574329)

as douglas adams wrote in the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy: the people who seek to lead are the least capable of leading(paraphrased). the world isn't lacking intelligent minds in fields other than computing/internet. it's just that these people are simply not interested in leading. they are interested in changing things, just not from the leadership aspect. perhaps one day that will change, but then again, if one of these people chooses to lead, will s/he be a less than capable leader?

some very good points, but.. (4)

fence (70444) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574330)

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.

Viva inventors (1)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574331)

If things were to go the way you suggested, where economics doesn't play a role in what tech is used by the masses we'd probably have a perfect electronic society with absolutly no work for anyone other than some R&D and technicians.

Of course this situation would cause a huge chunk of people to be chronicly unemployed and could never survive in today's global economic system. Sure you'd get 100 mpg, but will you have money to pay for even one gallon this week? Imagine fierce population control and lots of crime by the idle poor.

The best, most efficent technology has always lost out to a the most profitable one. Yes, its stupid and wasteful but it does keep money circulating and keeps creating jobs.

Maybe if society never bought into the industrial revolution and we lived in small solar powered homes raising our own livestock and crops or non-mass production trade, then the wonderous marvels of ingenuity could be very beneficial and practical because you wouldn't be subject to today's economic realities.

But alas, we did buy into the industrial revolution and now we're stuck supporting an inefficent infrastructure, that includes our huge population, mainly through making sure technological advances are profitable and economicaly practical, not efficent and revolutionary.

brilliant (0)

Richthofen (71491) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574332)

Sorry I don't have more to say, but this article was brilliant. I agree with everything it says. Thanks for the great reading!

Info (2)

kramer000 (72767) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574333)

One of the main wonders of the internet age is increased access to information. while it is a shame that some brilliant people are not working of agriculture, that does not mean we should knock the internet. People who have never been exposed to the world as a whole now have the opportunity to learn from millions of other people with different points of view. It is freedom of speech at the highest level.
For example, there is a group of Afghani women who post images and news about human rights violations Taliban on their website (run from Pakistan). While there are people who are making huge amounts of money on some silly ecommerce stuff, I believe that these early days of the internet will be exaulted as a new age of information, one to be celebrated, not reviled.

Re:a wee bit insular thinking here (3)

Gladiator (77646) | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

My own small story (4)

JustCause (83255) | more than 14 years ago | (#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...

I disagree (5)

Mr Donkey (83304) | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

The Bigger Picture (4)

BlackDouglas (84997) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574343)

"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.

Re:I've been saying this lately myself... (1)

yeoua (86835) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574347)

But won't every job be taken over? When the computer comes to the point of programming itself or others, what will humans be left with as jobs? Nothing. It will be like HG Wells' Time Machine, humans will be left to do nothing and in effect, we will either depend on the computer doing everything (since it can, hehe, once it can program, it will have programs running machines that make clothes and food, and all the other life processes we know and love). We will be the enoi, and the computers the others race in the book (jeez my memory sucks... hehe). Or, we may turn into the matrix, which is all fine and dandy as long as the computer lets us have the paradise they started with.. but that will be a tangent.

So once that happens... man will either be dependent on the comp and do nothing everyday, or comp will take man over...


But it does make you think (1)

yeoua (86835) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574348)

What is next? We had the metal revolutions, the agriculture, the industry, the computer age, and the internet... what is next? And how will humans cope (i use cope since the next step could be a spiral into our doom).

I have several theories on the next step...

1. We will have super computers that can emulate the brain's thought processes (no ai yet, it can just do what we do, but it can't do it by itself)

2. Someone will achieve ai in the computer (the programs programming programs)

3. Other people find ways of hooking our brains to the computers and have brain and comp interface.

4. Stemming off 3, consciousness transfers into other beings (animals/computers)

5. The end will be from either one, either comp ai takes us over, or man will be dependent on the brain interface and a problem happens killing us and again, computer takes over.

Would kinda be neat though. The end product would be a silicon based lifeform (till the computer figures out what else it can use to build itself).

Man, i love tangents, speculations, and philosophy.


Amen (2)

yeoua (86835) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574349)

Well, why exactly would people with enough computer skills who work in the industry and make twice as much as a politician (not all do, but those salaries are quite big, and not all politicians make a lot... president doesn't even break 1000000 bucks, but he gets tons of benefits... ) want to go into the government? He is already affecting the lives of millions if he is working for the right company, and hopefully in a positive light as well. So the computer engineer, is making more, affecting everyone in a positive way, gets his name on a product, what more can you want? Besides, who wants to be branded as a politician in this time and age?


a downside (2)

dulles (86837) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574350)

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

Does the Internet really holds us back? (2)

try67 (89578) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574353)

I think that unlike Rob's opinion, the Internet is doing the exact opposite from holding back human innovation and progress in "real issues" - it "drains" the brightest becuase its the current most fastest advancing field in science/commerence/etc, and it provides complex problems for complex minds.

At its current state, Politics is just a like Advertising - you need to convince people they should (vote/buy) some(one/thing), and you need to convince as much of them as you possibly can, this leads to an approach to the MCD and to the escape to the truly gifted to other fields, where they can express themselves in a fulfilling way.

The Internet (and computers in general) are filling the void created, and are rerouting human effort to newer regions not-yet-explored, this will eventually effect ALL mankind, not just the "too-rich-to-think-of-food" and will yield more efficent and new ways of providing jobs, food, houses and other basic needs to everyone...

The question... (4)

Yeshua (93307) | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

Re:Well said (5)

Sam_Grey (93599) | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

End of boom (5)

orkysoft (93727) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574364)

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.)

Straw man argument (3)

BobandMax (95054) | more than 14 years ago | (#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."

Though... (1)

renegade187 (95300) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574367)

The advent of the information age will lead to advances in other areas of technology. Software could lead to new ideas and ways of thinking and design that could uncover a way of making/doing something that we as a civilization would not have seen otherwise.

Afford to eat? (2)

Issue9mm (97360) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574369)

You can afford to eat? I can't... I used to be able to... before the internet. Now I spend all my grocery money on my ISP... Just kidding.

Spectacular speculation, at least in my opinion. It's not often that people think about what things would be like _without_ something, more often the other way. (ie: what would life be like if ice cream could talk.) It's good to see that it still happens.

In all seriousness tho, I know a lot of people, who are BRILLIANT in the computer field, but without the very first lick of common sense. I've seen people do things that you know they're too smart to do, and not realize how dumb it was.

The real truth, is that forethought is just as, if not more important than thought. Tearing apart a circuit board is a bad idea, UNLESS it works. (or unless you learned something in the process, which is another tangent) Granted, the results are worth it, but how many times have you had a hack go the wrong way, and have nothing to show for it but a pile of chips?

I'm not implying that hackers/techies don't have forethought, but that I've seen a mighty many that don't.

Re:a downside (4)

skidt og kanel (97864) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574373)

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!

Could the internet be doing those great things? (3)

Above (100351) | more than 14 years ago | (#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.

Re:This whole article is flamebait. (1)

wireframe (103606) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574388)

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

I 100% agree. Everyone needs to read 'Atlas Shrugged'.

Politics are shit. I'd much rather do something that had some effect on something, rather than just go around telling everyone I was going to do what's right for THEM, and then doing what's right for no one.

Yawn... (2)

pigiron (104729) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574389)

This argument has been around in one form or another for years. And its going to take slightly more than one AI "invention" to satisfy your requirement. BTW, why not add *free beer* to the list?

Your arrogance is astounding... (3)

pigiron (104729) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574390)

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.

A nightmare not a dream. (3)

pigiron (104729) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574391)

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.

Internet growth (2)

Clived (106409) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574397)

Well I think the growth of the Internet will never end. We as a species are learning how to work together and share ideas on a global scale at a rate unprecedented.We now have the ability as a GLOBAL society to set our sights towards greater challenges, space travel, time travel, etc and the Internet has been the breeding ground of the sharing of ideas of technological advantages, as well as a place to discuss, debate and in some cases rectify social issues eg the use of real audio for news reporting (uncensored) in the balkans a few years ago.
My 2 bits ;)

Re:Isn't this what capitalism supposed to do? (4)

Jabez (106416) | more than 14 years ago | (#1574398)

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.

The best stay where they're best (3)

Ichoran (106539) | more than 14 years ago | (#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!)

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