You don't need hipster.js to build a website. You can still build websites that can be used by millions of people using PHP, mysql, and HTML.
Lots and lots of people will tell you to learn hipster.js, and will imply that if you aren't using something written by 3 20 year olds in a coffee shop during a hackathon, that you can't get The Scale.
But the reality is that people have been getting The Scale with the tools that you already know since you learned them.
Here is a relevant blog post: http://thingist.com/t/item/21434/
It's also wrong. There is a spectrum from early adopter to head-buried-in-the-sand cobol developer, and most people would agree there are trade-offs to being on either end.
Suggesting to someone who has been out of the game for 15 years that basically nothing has changed is doing him a disservice and not answering the question. He's asking about what he's missing, it's better to let him in on it and let him decide for himself if it's really just the same old shit repackaged.
In 2016, chances are that your website will also be used on tablets and smartphones. Those users want a fast interactive user experience. Which most likely means a single page application with a substantial amount of JS code running on the client side and an Ajax interface to the backend.
Of the tech that the OP listed two things are _not_ hipster.js front end libraries or frameworks, and I wish I had mentioned them in my other response below.
1) Bootstrap: This is a huge productivity boost for CSS. You get a responsive layouts, a standard way to do grid layouts and it papers over browser differences and compensates for older browsers. OP says they don't use much CSS, that really doesn't cut the mustard in 2016. And, hey, Bootstrap is made by those guys at Twitter† (not 3 20-year-olds in a coffee shop as you so amusingly put it!) so they probably know a thing or two about UI layout and design. I'd be interested to know what % of websites now use Bootstrap or something inspired by it. Bootstrap was released as open-source in August 2011, it'll be 5-years-old tech this year.
2) jQuery: This is a huge productivity boost for JS. Of course you can use that hipster tool Vanilla JS (http://vanilla-js.com/) but jQuery is so concise, the syntax and semantics are well thought out, again papers over browser differences. You can chain operations together. The way it does selectors is brilliant. John Resig basically had some sort of divine inspiration. That fact that he was 14(?) at the time of writing it... well... that's how one learns to be humble in life. Sure raw JS is going to blow jQuery out of the water perf-wise but going by what OP says, dev time is what we're optimizing for here, jQuery will be plenty fast. It's used* on what, ~ 70%..90% of websites? I'm surprised a version of it isn't built into browsers yet. jQuery is 2006 tech, it's a decade old this year. (Also released as open-source in August, hmm).
† and Angular is Google tech, React is Facebook tech, Rails is 37signals tech but all have have huge open-source communities.
The only thing I'd add is to choose one of those technologies (jQuery / Node / Angular / Whatever!) and learn it (reasonably) well.
I can't tell you how many times I've used Pluralsight to bone up on a particular technology...
Thanks for clarifying that. I dont understand this argument though.
If you come here to tell me in all honesty that single page apps is just a fad, then I'd find that to be quite outrageous. There are precious few sites nowadays worth their while that just use HTTP Post. Sure you could use the Ajax partials technique, but frameworks like Angular and React are here to stay.
I say they are here to stay because there has not been any other architectures capable of addressing rich applications well. Maybe Meteor and DDP, but this, of course, is just hipster.js at this point (e.g. not ready for primetime as of yet).
He is looking for the basics of modern development. The stuff you consider solid, reliable, time-tested, (non-hipster) tech came out years and years after he stopped doing web development.
Compared to the typical opinion pieces these days, what a breath of fresh air!
I know quite a few oldsters with shiny new thing syndrome.
While I'm playing around with Golang at the moment, it seems very familiar to a C-based dynamic site I had back in '97.