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The Internet's Old Guard (reading.supply)
212 points by dsr12 81 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments



It's fascinating that so many of these "old guard" care about such fundamental principles like privacy and archiving. Many people new to internet technologies today seem to not care, or have little interest in those subjects. "Old guard" is indeed an apt term for these pioneers of a technology/world/layer that seems to be heavily taken for granted today.


Wow I guess I'm old now. But people cared about Internet privacy well into the 2000s. To the unreasonable extreme in fact, but it was still better than the lousy Internet we have now.

Putting your personal information online was unthinkable for most until Myspace gained popularity. Then once Facebook took hold, no one seemed to care about online privacy anymore.

The change in this perception was drastic and precipitous. Though it was younger folks who started it, and the older generations followed out of ignorance.


The change you describe is still a little bit mystifying to me. People went from caring about privacy and freedom to being totally fine with listening devices in their homes owned by advertising companies in only about ten years.

I personally blame gasified social media that linked (over)sharing little dopamine hits. We basically used a Skinner box to retrain people to like having their privacy invaded and willingly participate.

I don't rule out the possibility that this was intentional and designed, but it seems more likely that we just hit upon it in the great search for a workable business model for the Internet after the dot.com crash. People forget that until surveillance capitalism nobody knew how to make the net into a sustainable business. Unfortunately the answer ended up being a more dystopian retread of the ad-driven business model of the old media we were trying to get away from.


>I personally blame gasified social media that linked (over)sharing little dopamine hits.

Pretty much this. We turned the Internet into a videogame about self gratification. It turns out people would rather be famous than anonymous.


I remember meeting some "Internet famous" people in the mid-2000s of whom I didn't know their names IRL and how much respect I had for them conversing in person. Now everyone seems focused more on name recognition than credibility within anonymous groups. Your point is spot on. I feel like the Internet has transformed much like the game of golf. Growing up there was an etiquette and a barrier to entry. You played with people who knew the rules and you didn't need to ever talk about the rules because you didn't want to be that person. I felt a lot of respect for my fellow players who were skilled and the group was tight knit. Then Tiger Woods happened and everyone was interested in golf overnight. Did it boost the sport overall? Sure. Do I find the game less enjoyable today because the barrier has been lowered and there are many more who don't seem to have come up with the same appreciation and respect for the game? Yes. Some probably think that sounds arrogant, but it seems there are more wannabe influencers than creators in today's landscape of the Internet. And there are many great creators out there still. But it's often hard to find them.


I can definitely see where you're coming from. I help out running fandom events -- actually for furries. So it's a very different demographic to golfers but bear with me.

I've noticed the exact same pattern. Fame (or infamy in some cases) at all costs, everyone wants to be Internet- or Fandom-famous. "Popufur" is the pejorative term for it.

For some it's a vehicle for their "fame". They don't give a rat's ass about the rules -- they want their ten thousand retweets, everyone knows their name -- and they'll step on, burn out and push aside anyone to get there. The rules are for everyone else.

The internet was our vehicle to find each other, but now unfortunately it's become the petard by which we are hoist.


To combine yours and GP's comments, furry fandom has had several popularity boosts over the past ~5 years akin to the Tiger Woods thing for golf. I go to one of the larger conventions yearly, and the general feel has changed significantly because of it.


Hah... I meant to say gamified but I'm glad people understood the autoincorrected version. Mobile is the foot rub. (Autoincorrect of mobile is the future I saw once.)


Not even famous - they just want to use all the cool free stuff (Gmail, YouTube, FB etc.) that happens to sustain the businesses that profit from hoarding info about users.


Oh yeah, you're totally correct. I can easily think of people who were aghast that I was _chatting on the internet_ in those days... These same people now post troves of very personal stuff on Facebook with great frequency... Most (all?) of those people are older than me! :)


In myspace’s defense, myspace didn’t require you to use your real name. You could be skyrider23 and post pics and videos of your fun endeavours and no one would bat an eye. In fact, lots of people had accounts for their pets that others could subscribe to. Facebook (and later Google) insisted to use real names only. Something that, obviously, can be much better used and exploited than some anonymous persona.


[The year is 2003, Facebook was then just a small student project]

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don't know why.

Zuck: They "trust me"

Zuck: Dumb fucks

https://www.businessinsider.com/well-these-new-zuckerberg-im...


Classic.

Not sure why it's being downvoted because this conversation is always going to be relevant to Facebook.


People care about privacy up to a point. The majority of people (myself included) are apparently willing to give up their privacy if it means not having to pay for email service, or other information (search results, news).


Thus changing the model from "you're not the customer, you're the product".

It's amazing what people will do and throw away to save a few pounds.


Note that this happened at DWebCamp, an Internet-privacy focused event. Everyone present had self-selected for these attributes, and they aren’t necessarily representative of the wider population.

(See https://dwebcamp.org/ )


The average user used a ton of very very un-private things, including all manner of unsandboxed browser plugins.

It was mostly about trust back then. Windows explorer could not keep you safe from exploits, so an average user saw the internet as a somewhat dangerous public place.

Archiving was easy, because we didn't have any of this evil bad awful endless scrolling that I strongly suspects creates low grade anxiety regardless of content.

We had real pages with a URL that you could download. even forums(Which were so much better than social media) were paginated, not scrolled.

Now archiving, decentralization, cryptocurrency, and anonymity are often baked into the same layer.

I'm not going to bother with anything that uses Blockchains and five times the bandwidth, and most privacy centric projects aren't high performance or easy to use.

They often expect you to make some real sacrifices for privacy, without any "compromise modes".

Everyone is really focused on the tech, but most of it's already there. There's tons of anonymity networks out there.

What we really should ask, is why the sites used by the majority of people including tech pros are designed seemingly to encourage anxiety, comparing self to others,and throwaway content?


Most of the old guard types worked for big companies and universities. You tend to think more about these things in those environments.


Nah. You just see the same patterns repeating over and over.

Do you have a backup of your photos? videos? What about emails or text messages? game chats?

Have people or companies taken advantage of you? How about people you know and love?


> So [RMS] goes back and says lets make this crappy piece of shit operating system called Unix. Its name is a gag. It's a pun too. It's a joke, eunuch, a eunuch is.... a uh.. So he said lets go and build an open one, he made a system that caught on

Not even RMS would attribute the creation of Unix to himself, although I guess maybe this confusion is one of the fruits of his tireless "GNU/Linux" nagging.


Right. RMS had nothing to do with the creation of Unix. He was off in the MIT AI Lab back then, working on ITS in a very different culture: He had a nice PDP-10 mainframe running an OS with plenty of creature comforts [1] as opposed to dmr and Ken bumming an outdated PDP-7 minicomputer to hack up something which barely qualifies as multi-user. (PDP-7 Unix supported two users at most!)

[1] (The ITS concept of detaching jobs is basically similar to tmux or screen on modern systems, in that you can create a job tree, detach it, log out, and then log back in and reattach it and everything will continue as if nothing happened... assuming nobody killed your jobs. ITS didn't really have a security model.)

Even the PDP-11 was underpowered compared to the PDP-10... but the PDP-10 was a dead-end. It was discontinued in favor of the VAX (a PDP-11 extension, hence the name) and attempts to resurrect/continue it (Foonly, for example) came to nothing. RMS got kicked out of his world, his colleagues got swallowed up by the proprietary software world, and he settled on making GNU an extended and improved Unix instead of attempting to port ITS to a workstation with a 68000 CPU and maybe a megabyte of RAM. To RMS, Unix was a good-enough system with a pre-existing userbase, not his ideal platform; the biggest concession to his roots he got was sneaking a real Lisp system (not mocklisp) inside of Emacs. ;)

(And he wasn't even the first to write a Lisp Emacs. Greenberg wrote one for Multics.)


To add one more detail to this, in writing Emacs, RMS resisted the trend towards lexical scope, and as a result Emacs got stuck with dynamic scope.

Furthermore RMS failed to create a kernel because he believed the micro-kernel hype. But micro-kernels are hard to debug for all of the reasons that micro-services are challenging to scale and debug today if you have failed to create a good toolchain around them. And the result is that by the time that the GNU Hurd was available, most were using Linux and most of the rest were using Free BSD.

(One does wonder, however, what would have happened had RMS himself not been crippled by tendonitis. Could he have finished in time for his kernel to be relevant?)


Emacs supports lexical scope too, since 5 years ago: http://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/manual/html_node/elisp/Usi...


Yes, it does. Which means that for about 30 years it did not, and a lot of Emacs software still uses dynamic scoping.


> To RMS, Unix was a good-enough system with a pre-existing userbase, not his ideal platform; the biggest concession to his roots he got was sneaking a real Lisp system (not mocklisp) inside of Emacs. ;)

There's also the info command, which appears to be a re-implementation of the online docs system from ITS. It's also an abomination... I have vague memories of a time around 2000 where it seemed like half the man pages for basic utilities were just stubs saying "refer to info" which drove me insane.


I always prefer info pages to man pages when available: info zsh or info coreutils has a much more in-depth discussion of the program in question and, if there isn't an info page available, it'll show the man page.


No, but the intent was to create a (clone of) Unix. And he (and his people) got most of the way. They just didn't get the OS kernel, but they got the utilities and the build toolchain.


Like a math proof, the one who puts the last link in the chain gets the glory (and the proof named after them).


Well... given how long Mach took, the kernel probably was considerably harder than gcc or bash or the command-line tools.


Gnu always adopted other projects where needed. The existence of Linux would have caused the Gnu folks to de-prioritize Hurd. By the time they realized that Linus had a slightly different vision (TiVo) Linux driver support was already pretty good.


I think you mean HURD, Mach was from CMU and was used (along with code from BSD) as the underpinnings of XNU, the kernel underlying NeXTStep, MacOS, and iOS.


D'oh. Yes, HURD.


I think he might actually have intended to refer to the creation of the “POSIX” standard, and got his origin stories confused.


> Its name is a gag

Hurd is even more of a gag. (hurd/hird)


Nice quote from the piece: "The structure of the community that develops a new technology is formative to its evolution. Innovation requires high bandwidth information exchange between people. The design of technology is as much about the design of organizations and processes as it is machines."


This is actually a theorem called Conway’s Law.


From wikipedia:

> organizations which design systems ... are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations. — M. Conway


The 70's and 80's had many a fun time as it had that hobbyist element and vibe, a community and competitiveness was displayed in one doing something better and a zile to share knowledge and creativity for free over today's internet of put-down smack bias negativity and patent fishing.

With that, I can honestly say that this forum from my perspective of the early days epitomises that early ethos and the keenness to share and a penchant towards positivity. Sure even good people have bad days, but good people are always learning.

Though the internet grew and gradually usurped the group meets and people shared there, new friends made, the churn of time and things change, evolve. Not always for the better, but then perspective is anchored in time, so the older you get the more you learn about melancholy.


Maybe it is just me, but the ritualistic formalisms around this kind of behaviour feel like a peculiarly american trend. It reminded me of the Henry Ford run backwoods camps he would do, when other multi millionaires and he played at their childhood while deciding which labor unions to suppress in their corporate interest.

It's creepy.


Idk if you actually read the post, but a lot of people early to computing didn't become multi-millionaires. Lee Felsenstein, who helped start the Homebrew Computer Club, has a Patreon where people support his projects and writing now. And the ones in this group who did, like Brewster Kahle, have used their wealth to fund nonprofits like the Internet Archive.


Yea, I know. The thing is, I am probably indulging in self-criticism because I have been in networks since 1979 and I judge my own role as fleeting and incidental. Envy of their success in transformative change makes me hesitant to want to engage as they do and I critique what they do in that light.

Its too easy to wind up pontificating round the fire to the young 'uns .. At IETF we have a greybeard problem, and its sometimes hard to decide which side of things to be, on "older is better" and "newer is better" and "older is not newer but they are both interesting" debates.


I suppose if you've run in these circles a long time some of what you hear from the greybeards feels a bit tired. But as someone with just two decades in computers (okay three if you count hobbyist teenage years), I actually think some of those old ideas are much more interesting than what passes for political discourse amongst techies today. I mean has RMS' ideology ever been more relevant?


>>> Its too easy to wind up pontificating round the fire to the young 'uns

I'd say pontificating is inevitable. If you are part of the roots, and then you see that the internet didn't go where you wanted, then I guess, your best solution is to maintain your ideal and say "we tried, we failed" with a subtle corollary : since it failed, it means our goal was the right one".

Plus I'm sure it's very comforting and satisfying to talk about the past to people who somehow admire you (else they wouldn't be there listening)

Staying off those feelings to be able to think properly is really tough and requires some special kind of personality which is, I guess, as rare as technological savvy.


I wish meet-ups like this existed in the UK.

It would be nice if there was at least once a year where something as good as this happens in one of the cities.

I know there's very-small local groups scattered around the country, but those are mostly populated by old men[1] who just want to get out of the house once a week (well, my local group definitely is...)

---

[1] I'm almost 50, so I'm hardly 'young'.


Honestly I feel like often in the UK we have no sense of community compared to the americans in basically anything. I think often unless you live in London, UK cities can feel very functional at times with people just living. Clubs and activities are not that popular and a lot of people are just sitting at home watching Netflix and drinking


So I flew over to dwebcamp from London to wave the Matrix.org flag - and it occurred to me that it was quite similar to EMFCamp in the UK, and OggCamp too. These things exist (and neither are London based). I hear OrgCon is good too. Meanwhile, there also seem to be good hackerspace communities popping up around the UK. So while there’s scope to be better, I think the groundwork is there.


I'm surprised to hear that's your experience. I'm Greek and I live in the UK, in a town on the South coast. When I first came here I didn't know anyone, but I had just gone back into painting and modelling minis, so I went to the Games Workshop er shop, and I met all the people in the local WHFB and 40K club, who became my main gang for the next couple of years or so (when I finished studying and started working).

So my experience has been that it's very common for people over here to form clubs and societies for all their little nerdy, or not necessarily so nerdy, passtimes. Which is great, really. I can't think of a better way to get to meet people who won't fall asleep while you discuss the most minute details of your hobbyist obsession.

Not that I have any of those, oh no :)


This is true for the Warhmammer/Minis hobbyists, but I'm looking for a regular meetup of 'Greybeards' who have grown up with computing over the past 40 years, like I have.

Not that I have anything against younglings, it's just that my experience is very different from theirs.


From one random person (me) to another (you), I'd recommend following Jay on twitter or wherever. She's great.


Link for the lazy: https://twitter.com/arcalinea/


> We're biologically the same as we were 10,000 years ago

Tangential, but why do people so often get away with this particular case of sloppy thinking?

There have been plenty of wars and famines and civilisational calamities and bottlenecks and successes and migrations and radical changes in conditions over the last 10000 years. Evolution is known to act fast in a changing environment. There is no way "we" could have avoided significant change - and over much shorter timespans then ten millennia at that.


Because of rate of mutation. Maybe ratios of different genotype subpopulations changed but there could have been only minimal changes via mutation. Where does the idea that evolution works fast come from?


His argument does not need beneficial mutations to work. Merely the change in the proportion of gene expression can have profound consequences. Take the breeding of dogs for example. This kind of selection is what he refers to when he talks about bottlenecks, wars, and famine. Small groups with beneficial gene selection could've easily taken over during great changes in societal structure. The idea that evolution can go very fast is pretty well founded in (I forget the name) the idea that you have large stretches of minimal, small improvements, interpuncted by short disruptive events of large improvements/readaptation to a new environment.


Foxes are a better example. Took only 10 generations to domesticate, and the result wasn't just demeanor - physical, dog-like changes resulted as well: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/domesticated-foxes-gene...


>“This deck of punch cards worked all over the world except in Australia, and what was happening was customs inspectors, when they inspected things like light bulbs, would pull one out at random to check. They did the same thing with the punch cards, and put them back out of order."

That is amazing.


Yip, back then you always double rubber banded your deck of punched cards, some triple banded, least those whose first floor shuffle drop was down some stairs.

Funny one was when a friend of mine interrupted the typist punching my coding sheet onto punched cards. He kept putting a typed page back into the untypes pile of what was 5 pages. Got the deck and was mildly flummoxed what was wrong as had a chunk of code repeated 3 times (the number of times he did it without the typist noticing).

But one perk of punched cards - removing lines of code is as easy as removing the associated card. Also be mindful of prankster who would stick random cards into your deck if you left it unattended, added a real new meaning to joker in the deck. Today, they would just call it a code injection exploit. Which is why I and others would often sign the deck along the edge of the cards and do some lines at various angles on the other long end so you instantly see if something is amiss. Today they would call that signed code.


At least they didn't fold, spindle or mutilate them.


One thing I'm wondering -- were the punch cards numbered/identifiable, at least? haha


Several Australian universities at the time had punch card sorters. They were extremely loud and took an extremely long time, and I'm not quite sure what they used to mark the placement of the cards, but they mostly worked.


you could make an angled line with a sharpie down the side of the deck.


That's a very handy trick I'll have to remember.


In USSR they were numbered: two digit serial number was printed on blank cards. I'm not that old, but used punch cards were used for note taking in my local library in 90's.


Some languages (I think Cobol) allowed the last 8 columns of punched cards to contain sequence numbers for physical sorting...




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