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Jon Stewart calls out congressional nerd bashing over SOPA (msn.com)
416 points by aepstein on Jan 20, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 156 comments

it points to a big shift in society and the economy.

software is now a cornerstone of the world economy. modern life runs through the internet. even if you personally avoid the internet, you depend on it.

but the baby boomer generation, represented by these politicians has not understood it. they know engineers as the guys building houses, bridges, aeroplanes, rockets. but software? it is an invisible world to them. child's play. how hard can it be to build the internet vs. the hoover dam.

i don't think this will change soon nor can it be actively changed. we need to wait till this generation simply dies out and gets replaced by the ones who grew up with computers. for a larger part of society in the western hemisphere, that means birthdates in the 1970s. yes, gates, jobs were born earlier, but the majority of their users were born later. they were visionaries, outliers.

and the circle will begin again, facebook generation vs. privacy defenders. and who knows whats after that...genetics?

For last couple of centuries or so, each generation grows up with unprecedented change in their lifetime.

For example, I enter elementary school, the internet started to take off and browsers were primitive. Nowadays, we can enjoy the convenience of movie streaming, fast browsers, and extraordinary rich video games(Dwarf Fortress, I am looking at you). So it doesn't make sense to me that congressmen are literal dinosaurs. Rather, I think they stop updating their model of the world and refuse to absorb any knowledge for the last couple of decade.

In any case, the situation with copyright is not new. If you look at the issue centuries ago, you would realize that we been having this debate for a long time. Today, the internet only make pirating easier than ever and bring the issue of copyright to the forefront of public consciousness.

We thought about "old versus new" business model because we lack an understanding of the history of copyright. In reality, it have much more to do about how your model of how to make money.

you're seriously too young to understand. i am 32 years old. the first time i went online was in 1999. before that i had personal computers, yes. but no internet whatsoever. can you even imagine a world without google and wikipedia?

i got my first mobile phone in that time frame.

my parents were born after ww2. your time as a youth shapes you, forms your understanding of the world. you translate everything you see into analogies of the past. a mobile phone is a like a normal phone without a cord. easy. but wrong for the generation that grew up with mobile phones.

my parents grew up with black and white tv. literally no computers in sight, anywhere. they got engineering diplomas while only utilizing a calculator (high tech for their time!) and pen and paper.

the majority of people (aka normal people) who where adults before 1985 do not "get" this new world the way you do. the outliers who build microsoft even didn't get it at first.

I don't believe that for a second.

I'm 45 years old. My parents were born during ww2. I grew up with black and white tv (okay, partly because we couldn't afford color yet...). But my dad, an unskilled immigrant, ran IT companies for most of his life, and my mother, well into her 60's, got an iPad before I did. Hell, she was on Skype when I still had a landline... She even owns a friggin' Wii.

If there are people who don't seem to "get" this new world, it's not because because they are uneducated (both my parents' education ended with highschool) or because they are "old". It's because they don't want it. They've seen more change during their lifetime than you can imagine, some it they supported (or even made happen), some of it they were against. They're perfectly capable of dealing with changing times.

These politicians see a change that erodes their power and gives it to the people, and they simply don't want that to happen. That's why they belittle us by calling us "nerds", because they consider us a threat, not because they don't "get" it.

They get it quite well, thankyouverymuch, which is exactly why they say what they say and do what they do.

I'm 53, my parents were teenagers before the end of the European second world war. My Dad would have loved all this stuff. My mum's best friend was a telex operator in a large shipping company the 1950s and they had this thing called operator net. Facebook for 20something sweater girls, it sounds a hoot.

Here is my thought: the Internet (e.g. the IP/TCP protocols and http) can support either large centralised systems (Facebook, Google++, Twitter &c) or atomised individual 'presences' (shivaplug server next to your router and rss as microblogging tool). I suspect we are going in the centralised direction, and that our various governments are happy with that...

You are all right!

I think that a lot of older people DO very much continue to keep up with all social and technological changes.

But the main point, that older generations are both socially and technologically conservative is not controversial.

I think that, despite many exceptions, this is a universal human truth.

Lets have a contest to see who is the oldest!!!!!

Your parents spent their time learning technology.

The people in congress spent their time learning to be politicians. It wasn't until the last 15 years that you had to use a computer to do everything, so if you learned how to do what you do now more than 15 years ago, you didn't need a computer, so you probably don't know how they operate.

my folks, older than yours, also have their tech..... that doesnt mean they get how every detail works. there is no blanket statement here, but it is largely true that those who grew up with black and white tvs will not see things the same way. they may like the internet, but those of us a bit younger watched it hatch and explode globally. those even younger wont remember a tome without it and will have an even different perspective.

Those elders who spent their time on ham radio and trains back in the B&W days acquired an inherent understanding of cellphones and the internet, respectively. :)

This isn't a generational thing, not in the least.

Not understanding the internet transcends all ages and social classes. It isn't a symptom of age, but of ignorance and incuriosity. The people we're talking about haven't even tried, they haven't bothered to look up "the internet" in an encyclopaedia, haven't bothered to ask a savvy intern to explain it to them. They're people who habitually hold strong opinions on things that they know less than nothing about - c.f. climate change.

> your time as a youth shapes you, forms your understanding of the world.

Only if you stop learning. And by learning i mean challenging your ways of thinking and acting (think about a computer geek learning salsa dancing), not learning something similar to things you already know (think about a computer geek learning yet another programming language).

> the majority of people (aka normal people) who where adults before 1985 do not "get" this new world the way you do.

Don't be a sheep. I mean, do not get along only with people in your age bracket. Keeping an open mind, socialize with younger people: they'll teach you things, if you let them.

Disclosure: 37 year old fart here.

  For last couple of centuries or so, each generation grows
  up with unprecedented change in their lifetime.
I'd argue that this generation's changes aren't just unprecedented, but in an entirely different category. Not just in size, but in speed and extent. The cell phone alone is the most fundamental change in society in human history; suddenly, every person on earth can communicate instantly with almost any other person, and can broadcast an image to almost the entire planet in a matter of hours. And we couldn't do that twenty years ago. We couldn't even do that five years ago.

Consider someone who died in 1955 at the age of 70. In their life they saw the introduction of: home electric providers, telephones, radio, movies, automobile, air travel (from nothing to the jet age!), nuclear energy, the polio vaccine, penicillin, color photography, frozen food, and more. There are also less known changes with deep impact: the introduction of municipal garbage service cleaned up our cities and improved health, the vertical filing system revolutionized data management, Linotype made it possible to have newspapers more than 8 pages long, the tractor, artificial fertilizer, and a mass of farm inventions opened up agriculture. Home refrigerators lets people keep fresh food longer and more cheaply than ice boxes could. Modern foods ranging from cornflakes to PEZ were invented during that time.

And you think the cell phone is more fundamental than, say, the widespread deployment of telephones in the first place? Before then, there was no way to have a voice conversation with someone more than a 100 meters away.

When the polio vaccine was invented "church bells were ringing across the country, factories were observing moments of silence, synagogues and churches were holding prayer meetings, and parents and teachers were weeping. One shopkeeper painted a sign on his window: Thank you, Dr. Salk. 'It was as if a war had ended', one observer recalled." (Wikipedia for Jonas Salk.) That vaccine still saves the lives of 100,000s of children every year even when compared to the 1800s. For that matter, before penicillin you could die because of a rose thorn accidentally scratching your mouth, as the sad story of Albert Alexander shows.

Tell me, how is the cell phone a more fundamental change than these?

It is very hard for people to understand the impact of changes before their lives. All those things are "just the way the world is" for them. Conversely, I think it can also be difficult to understand how profound changes in the current day are if you aren't paying attention, and the world is big enough that there are profound changes happening somewhere that I may know is happening, but I don't understand how profound it really is.

And then, every once in a while, a polio vaccine is created, and the world is different for everybody. I certainly think the WWW is one of those. Facebook might be (800 million people under one roof is something, but I'm not convicted it is really changing the world).

These are all excellent points, but I personally think that Facebook is a fundamental change on the order of phones in everyone's homes. That is, it is changing the way that most people communicate.

But, yes, overall, I think people tend to underestimate the radical changes that happened during the first half of the 20th century. By 1950, the "structure" of daily life was much closer to it was in 2000 than it was in 1900.

You have a very valid point. I can't think of the enormous change the introduction of the home electric providers must have been. I mean, from candles to bulbs!

But then again, I think that the main difference now is the current rate of adoption of the new technologies. How many years took to build the electric system? How many years took the use of the mobile phone to become widespread? Everything moves faster and faster, and that's what is letting lots of people behind. They just can't adapt fast enough.

For example, my mother. Every time she has a new mobile phone, she asks me to teach her how to use it. I start saying, "Read the screen, think, decide and then press the buttons." Because, i tell her "if not, what will you do when even your TV has more and more menus?" Of course, she grumbles, but at least tries. And when she REALLY needs help to learn something, i help her.

And I see this pattern everywhere. Tech changes so fast now, that while a few people adapt extremely fast, and to some it takes it a little longer, to the rest, they're just tired of learning how to use new stuff, every now and then.

The complaint that people "just can't adapt fast enough" has been a near constant refrain for over a century. Read even the Wikipedia page about the "Roaring Twenties" and then tell me that the amount of change in that decade was slower than now.

Let's take some examples. Your baseline is the cell phone. The first commercial mobile phone was in 1983, so you're suggesting a time span of about 25 years. (Before 1983 it was possible to connect a two-way radio through to the phone system, but that's not the point you're trying to make.) By 1988, friends of mine had car phones. The StarTac phone came out in 1996 and marks the start of "widespread consumer adoption." But I would say that it took until 2005 where it started to supplant having a land line.

The first commercial (pre-built and for consumer use) radio receiver was in 1920. That marks the start of the "golden age of radio", which ended when TVs became more popular in the late 1950s. Surely that was as fast as the uptake of cell phones.

Semiconductor transistors were invented in 1947. "Transisterization" was so fast that crew of the Minnow had a transistor radio (in 1964) and no one was surprised by it. Transitors made entirely new categories of technology possible, so that we had a transistor-based game console (Pong-style "tennis" and "racquet-ball") in ~1975.

The first commercial (synthetic) detergents were introduced in 1933 (that's when Dreft was introduced) and "by the 1950s, soap had almost been completely replaced by branched alkylbenzenesulfonates." Not bad for 20 years! Actually it was bad, because we then found out it wasn't that biodegradable and had to find a replacement.

The neon light was first presented in 1910 and "became very popular for signage and displays in the period 1920-1940."

Prohibition lasted for 13 years in the US, and had a huge impact on daily life. That surely counts as an enormous change.

Cosmetics didn't become popular in the US until the 1910s, and the flappers of the 1920 used it with a vengeance. (WP says that previously it was too closely associated with prostitution, but the post-war trend was a reaction to the previously popular demure look, and that "[a] skewed postwar sex ratio created a new emphasis on sexual beauty, and because of the influence of Hollywood.)

All these big changes took place on the same time scale as the cell phone. How then do you measure the amount of change now, and compare it to (say) the amount of change in the 1920s? When was the last time that most people were not "tired of learning how to use new stuff"?

You are right in most of your comment. And yes, people always has been tired of having to learn how to use new stuff (I can imagine a caveman grudging about having to learn how to start a fire. LOL)

But the scale and complexity is important too. You can't compare a radio with two dials, and a smartphone with lots of screens. It's a whole new level of effort to learn how to use it. It takes more time, and it stack over previous knowledge you are supposed to have. But I know lots of elder people who don't even know how to turn on a computer. And sadly, they reject smart phones and other new things because they just gave up.

I'm presuming that you've not heard much about the earliest radios. They had two or three batteries in them ("A", "B", and at the beginning, "C" cells.) Don't mix up the batteries when you wire them in and make sure you have the right polarity as otherwise you might fry the tubes. Batteries could easily leak, so check them out for problems. If you're on a farm, you might want one powered from your car battery, which meant you could take it back to the car or a generator in order to recharge it. Then there's antenna setup. And tube replacement (since tubes go bad). Also, the early radios (excepting crystal sets) usually had three or more dials. For example, when you change the frequency you need to change the impedance of your antenna to match it. (Raise the lid or read the owner's manual to find the chart of how those correlate.)

Radios got simpler to use, in part because of the strong demand to make them simpler. They got simpler to use sometimes at the expense of more internal complexity (a starter motor for an automobile, instead of a crank) but sometimes because we just figured out an easier way to do things (Wozniak's Disk II controller is a classic hacker example) .

On the other hand, you are omitting all of the difficult, complex things we used to do, which we don't do now. Do you sew all your clothes, bedsheets, and curtains? I sure don't. Sewing isn't easy. That's a "whole old level of effort" I don't need to know. Do you regularly can or preserve your own foods? A few do, but it's easier and cheaper to buy things from the store. Until the last 1800s, many engineers and scientists learned draftsmanship (as different than art, mind you) because that was the best way to make a visual record of what you saw. Of course, the camera has nearly completely replaced that requirement, which we use to learn different things. Evolution, thermodynamics, Maxwell's equations, and more have simplified what was previously a bunch of unconnected concepts.

Our culture rides the wave of "just complex enough." If it's too complex, like early microcomputers, only a few people make the effort to learn it. It it's useful enough, then there's a lot of work put into making it simpler. When it gets simple enough, there's widespread use. So widespread use happens when something is just barely simple enough for most people to understand.

The idea you are talking about is at least 45 years old. Alvin Toffler wrote "Future Shock" in 1970 about this very topic. It popularized the phrase "information overload", which was coined in 1964. Note how someone who was 20 then would be an "elder" now.

Again I ask you, how do you judge that the rate of growth is more now than it was in the 1920s, or the 1970s? What meaningful metrics do you use, and how do you correct for you own biases of what is important? As far as I can tell, excepting the Great Depression, the amount of change and the turmoil over the amount of change has been constant for over a century.

(typo: "even when compared to the 1980s", not 1800s. The polio vaccine "reduced the worldwide incidence from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 1,652 cases in 2007"; Wikipedia: Polio)

"human history" covers a lot of territory. in terms of fundamental changes, nothing comes close to agriculture (let population densities skyrocket, enabled pyramid-style social setups) and writing (let knowledge accumulate rapidly from generation to generation).

Not to mention the wheel (that ubiquitous cliche), the discovery of bronze (an alloy of copper and tin that allowed for more durable weaponry), the Haber-Bosch process; and so on.

Unlike computing none of those things reached near-ubiquity within one generation though.

* > I'd argue that this generation is seeing a larger change than any before.*

I don't think the cell phone is that significant on its own, though it is up there with the changes others have mentioned.

What this generation is seeing isn't one massive change: it is seeing a greater concentration of significant changes than previous generations, and some of those changes when grouped together have greater impact than they would individually.

> The cell phone alone is the most fundamental change in society in human history

What about the railways?

Railways and phones are part of the same change. The ubiquitous, ever-present global network. They just had a bit less penetration and a ton more lag.

Oh, trains are pretty fundamental and changed a lot. But a device so small it fits into your pocket, let's you communicate in real time with almost everybody, takes pictures and even movies (and sends them around the world), precisely calculates not only time but your location on the whole earth, can recognize speech, songs, books and other stuff, is able to translate fast between common languages, oh, and it let's you access the whole knowledge of our entire species wherever and whenever you want...

I mean, I love railways, I really do, but compared to a thing like our cell phones? It would even be possible (altough quite cumbersome), to entirely live just from this thing! (Do some programming/webdesign/consulting/whatever to make money, order food and everything else online and you don't have to do anything else.)

Clearly mobiles enable much faster communication - but in terms of societal change I believe the railways were much more important. Not only did it enable news/mail to travel much more quickly, but for the first time large numbers of people could easily visit areas beyond their immediate neigbourhood, and goods could be transported large distances within a day. It revolutionised farming and enabled the growth of cities.

Railways were more of a fundamental change than where smart phones are now. (Note I'm allowing them to be a more fundamental change in the future.) Not because of individuals taking the train, but because it allowed goods to be mass transported easier - it built fundamental infrastructure. Smart phones aren't part of fundamental infrastructure (yet!).

I'd argue that this generation is seeing a larger change than any before.

So long as we continue on our trend of exponential technological growth, this will be tautologically true.

Despite what Ray Kurzweil thinks, I don't believe that the rate of growth is maintainable until strong AI is developed, and when that happens, we'll be irrelevant. Prior to strong AI, I think we'll level out a bit.

That's presuming strong AI is possible, of course, which I think it is.

or birth control

edt: i meant this to appear underneath the comments with other pretty meaningful inventions that caused huge social change

What about soap? (And other cleanliness inventions)

Or the transistor?

I dont disagree with your thesis, but your example spans a mere twenty years.

My parents saw airplanes take off as a transport form anybody could use, it really changed the world.

Before that, it was affordable cars, it changed how people live, work and relax.

Before that TV.

Before that the discovery of the nuclear bomb, nuclear energy, the world would be never the same.

Before that penicillin, filtered water(no diseases in water), radio, telephone, polymers, natural gas pipes, electric light...

My Nan remembers seeing the first car coming into town - she's only in her mid-seventies. When she was growing up it you had a coal shed (heating was just the open fire in the living room), outside larder on the north side of the house (no fridge), outside toilet (at the end of the garden no less).

I find it amazing to think of the amount of changes that have gone on in the last 70-odd years - in just one life time!

Well, I only exists for twenty one years.

I just realized I'm mere ten years ahead of you and when I entered elementary school, it seemed like a whole century before the age of internet and browsers. Some friends had C64 for gaming and the bravest daredevil users learned how to write scrollers in 6510 assembly. This makes the baby boomers come from the Middle Ages in computer/internet time.

I recently found a book from primary school where I was writing about Netscape pretty much as if it was the Internet. I have a folder of screenshots from about 10 years ago where I am using IE 5.5 I think on 800*600 and a terrible looking MSN messenger. How quickly times change in Internet terms.

This thread is starting to feel a bit like the Four Yorkshiremen, but it is fascinating to see how people's exposure to/experience of/feelings about the internet vary with even a few years' difference in age.

For my part, I was born in 1973 and got my first computer (a Compaq Deskpro Portable) when I was twelve. I taught myself to program GW-BASIC and later QBASIC, and then pretty much abandoned computers until about 1999, when I abruptly found myself making an internal website for my department in a large corporation. (I've been building web applications for a living ever since.)

I was aware of email and the internet during the 1990s but must confess that I didn't pay much attention. I certainly didn't buy the hype coming from enthusiasts about it heralding this epochal shift that was going to transform how we all live, work, play, socialize, organize and get civilly engaged (oops).

I'm old enough to remember a time before the internet, and as a result, it fascinates me in a way that my teenage son can't really understand because it's just there for him in the same way that telephony was just there for me as a child (though I'm also old enough to remember rotary phones).

But my fascination with the internet goes beyond the fact that I watched it arrive: it fascinates me because it really is transformative in a way that other new technologies that arrived during my childhood were not. When I was growing up, our family got cable TV (remember the brown box "converter" with a line of buttons running from channel 2 to 23?), an Atari 2600 and a VCR. They were all nice consumer appliances, but none of them had anything like the transformative impact of ubiquitous internet connection.

Cable TV is already passé. When I'm consuming media rather than producing it, I prefer a la carte to the all-you-can-eat buffet. I canceled my cable ten years ago and never looked back. The internet is simply a better content delivery system than cable/satellite.

Video games are fun and entertaining, have risen technically and thematically to the level of an art form (on par with literature and film) and may yield some insights that can help us learn and stay motivated. However, the technology doesn't really drive a broader cultural shift. At most it has crowded out board games and is encroaching on TV watching as a more entertaining drop-in replacement. In any case, some of the most compelling video games owe their success as much to their online connectivity (over the internet, of course) as to their intrinsic gameplay.

VHS is not only obsolete in the particulars of the cassette technology, but in the more general sense that physical media are slow, cumbersome and wasteful compared to unlimited broadband access to digital content. The last dedicated physical media player connected to my TV was a DVD player. The next device I'm going to connect to my TV is an internet-connected media server. BluRay is simply a last-ditch effort to double-down on an already-archaic distribution system.

"literal dinosaurs" hahaha. Sorry, this is amusing me.

I've often wondered how to explain to non-developers the level of complexity in large software projects. I don't think the new generation will understand it any better than the old generation because, as you say, it's an invisible world.

I am currently contracted on a project with 1.5 million lines of code and dependencies on hundreds of services written by a number of different teams. It takes a few weeks just to get new developers productive on the code base. How do you even begin to explain the complexity of this to somebody in a way they can really relate to when they barely understand computers?

An analogy for software development I've heard is to imagine building the Empire State building but with your view limited to a 15" glass portal. You must remember the off screen portions of the "building" in your head.

My current favourite is to describe it like this: You have to build a puzzle. Problem is nobody really knows what the puzzle should look like. Instead you get a few hundred pages of documentation written by a bunch of people who don't really know much more about the puzzle than you do describing how they think PARTS of the puzzle should look like in the end - based on discussions they've had with people who have no idea about the big picture either. Oh, you don't actually get any puzzle pieces - that's up to you to create.

As you start trying to build something that looks like the puzzle, you realise that instead of the 1,000 pieces originally estimated for the puzzle, you're going to need 5,000, and the puzzle is actually in 3 dimensions not just 2, and also the puzzle needs to fit with another puzzle built by a different team of people who had no idea your puzzle needs to fit with them. Then you find out your puzzle pieces, that you borrowed from someone else, don't work as expected with put together with certain other pieces... :)

I always liked:

Your supposed to design a 4 lane bridge for a new interstate, you say sure that takes 6 months where do you want it?. After 3 months they decide where they want it and expect the design in 3 more months. You say, that's not going to happen I might be able to pull 5 months though.

So, assuming you know where it's going to be you start pulling in some overtime and get to work. After another month they say, we need a 6 lane bridge, after another they want to add a train. And 2 weeks before the deadline they decide on a tunnel. SO, you end up submitting a 6 lane bridge design that can't handle trains.

Which is why software is always late, and you don't hand them what they want.

I like this analogy as well as the analogy you replied to simply because they relay the massive velocity of change we have to face.

You got documentation to start from? Lucky bugger.

That's it. I'm puzzled.

This is very true. Explaining systems of reasonably small scale seems hopeless to non-developers sometimes.

However I think this is true of a lot of fields... some people just can't grok (and don't need to grok) how an automatic transmission in their car works. I'm particularly inept when it comes to the subtleties of art and music.

But a particularly relevant analogy that I use would be that you are working at a library. (That is: a library where you can check out books, not a software library.)

Not only do you have to write a good portion of these books, but you also have to read a lot of the books in the library, and at the very least you have to read the table of contents and/or index of most of those books.

In addition to this you have to be very good at keeping the library organized, and you have to coordinate with other staff members at the library.

Smaller systems are simply a shelf or two of books, larger systems can span several buildings.

I like this analogy because most everyone can relate to it, it gives a very real physical sense of size, and I think it pretty adequately describes what a programmer has to hold in their head on a daily basis.

Heh. Early on in my software education, I asked a friend of mine about the difference between real time systems and normal. He said, "In real time systems, if something goes wrong, the Space Shuttle blows up." Seems like an apt metaphor.

no need for the drama. realtime simply implies there is known, hard maximum time it will take for certain in-scope operations to take place, so you can design around that. a realtime os will often be slower overall than the non-realtime os on the same gear. the bottom line is about predictable, knowable behaviour.

challenger blew up because of a fuel leak, not the lack ofi an rtos.

Why would they have to understand? Do you understand the intricaties of an airplane when you fly one?

I can at least understand it takes a bit of engineering to heave a nearly million pound piece of metal in the air. Twitter just doesn't have the same cachet. Hell, it's only 140 characters, how hard could it be?

I don't think Twitter is an adequate comparison. Even within the developer world you get plenty of programmers saying Twitter is a "weekend toy project" to implement. (And in many respects it is, for the functionality--the more interesting bit is handing the massive user load.) A more apt comparison may be with the Linux Kernel, or Windows 7.

I'm not suggesting one needs to understand the intricacies. I understand that aircraft are extraordinarily complex, and that's sufficient. I get the impression from non-computer people that software development is the equivalent of typing a Word document, except with mono-spaced fonts and highlighting, and lots of typos leading to bugs.

When people have a view of software development like this I usually retort by pulling up the Wikipedia page of a modern processor.

For instance right now I'd probably pull up the page for the Intel Core i7 and show them the transistor count.

I say: "You're now in a room. It has <transistor count> light switches. I write the instructions that tell you precisely how to flip those switches. You have <cycle time> to perform each instruction. Also it takes <x> instructions to <do some useful unit of computation>"

It's a bit exaggerated, of course, but it usually shakes their view of computers up a bit :).

Airplanes are usually come up when people are asked for an example of a complex piece of engineering. But rarely do they realize that most complex part of a modern airliner is the software.

"People" dont have to understand. Unless they are legislators trying to write new laws to govern "x", then they MUST understand.

Because they need to understand medicine when they make drug (the prescription kind) or other medical related laws, or chemistry when they make environmental regulations? Please. Only a superficial understanding of technicalities is required to legislate sufficiently effectively, understanding that can easily be supplied by staff who make high-level summaries.

They don't have to have an intricate understanding of medicine, but they should understand the issues well enough to be able to make informed decisions. If they do not understand, then they should bring in experts. For example, if you want to make legislation regarding a certain vaccination, then you should understand how vaccines work at a high level and the concept of herd immunity. Otherwise, you have no business writing laws to regulate it, period. The people writing this legislation don't have an equivalent level of insight into how the internet works.

In this video, we had a lot of people proudly proclaiming that they didn't have the slightest clue about how the stuff they were regulating works, made terrible and inaccurate apologies, all without bringing in experts who could inform them as to the implication of the law. To add insult to injury, rather than calling them experts, they used derogatory language to put down the very people who knew what they were talking about (lets be clear here, some people use nerd as a badge of honor, but that was clearly not how they were using the word).

I'm not sure that this is the reason politicians don't understand the Internet. It's not because they're old, it's because they're fraternity-pledging C-student jocks. you see in the video they keep saying "I'm not a nerd" -- that's because being a nerd is the worst thing they can imagine. They know engineering is hard, but if people see them knowing stuff, they won't be cool anymore.

Understanding the basic ramifications of SOPA / PIPA requires relatively little technical competence.

The opinions expressed by our lawmakers are a reflection of mentality, not age.

It was sickening to watch the legislators praise their own ignorance. It's totally cool not to be a subject matter expert in everything - nobody expects them to be. However, it's maddening that they had not already consulted any "nerds".

It really begs the question : does this apply to all other aspects of our government? Do we draft legislation on energy, defense and immigration without consulting subject matter experts at the outset?

This is why it is hard working in companies that doesn't have a software/hardware related business model.

To them, sitting in front of a computer all day means you're not working.

This is why it is hard working in companies that don't have a software/hardware related business model. To them, sitting in front of a computer all day means you're not working.

I also have higher expectations from members of congress, people with allegedly good education ... "nerds"? Really?

Actually, that bit brought this entire thing into focus for me.

All those congresspeople were simply regurgitating, verbatim, what lobbyists from the MPAA were whispering in their ears right before any of that televised coverage. "these are just a bunch of angry nerds"...

I now understand that this is what most, if not all congresspeople do on any issue brought before them.

We have to get more involved in the political process, people.

Our country is being run into the ground by self-serving, self-obsessed sociopaths without the humility or brainpower to even do the tiniest bit of their own research on the topics that are guiding this country.

Apparently congressmen haven't passed the age of 12.

How is this kind of language acceptable? When they listen to expert opinions from psychiatrists, do they say "let's hear from the head-shrinker"?

i agree with your sentiment. however, to nuance it a bit more. if, as you say, "software is now a cornerstone of the world economy. modern life runs through the internet. even if you personally avoid the internet, you depend on it." then it seems more likely that this is a power play. if you can control the means/crutch of modern life then you have tremendous financial, social, and political influence.

Not all of the politicians in this clip are baby boomers. At least one looked to be in his 40s.

This is not a generational issue, this same kind of political issue has existed in all times in various forms. It is an issue of power and control, power to control distribution channels and who may produce what and when.

Or framed in a better way, before the internet it was about the radio and before that it was about the telegram. The radio was not allowed to be free, pirate stations where setup all over the place and there was a movement for free radio. It was in the spirit of that time to go for the controlled option, laws where setup to prevent independent broadcasters, without the many small radio broadcasters input to the law.

The issue is not the same, it is very similar, It is not a generational issue.

Baby boomers made the internet, baby boomers where the hippies, they are not clueless about internet or freedom. Intelligent people make you think they are stupid.

> This is not a generational issue, this same kind of political issue has existed in all times in various forms. It is an issue of power and control, power to control distribution channels and who may produce what and when.

And note the parallels to Stallman's "The Right to Read" article: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/right-to-read.html

SOPA/PIPA is just the latest attempt to bring about a world very much like what Stallman described.

Agreed; this is not a generational issue, but a world-view issue. Centrally controlled versus free (as in freedom) and distributed. Centralized versus decentralized.

The same kind of "battles" are happening this very moment around:

- Food (organic/independent versus bio-industry)

- Radio spectrum (free-for-all versus monopolies)

- Currency (many distributed ones versus one central controlled world currency)

- Identity (pseudonymous/anonymous versus centralized identity)

- Equality (equal rights versus centralization of power)

- Wealth (equally distributed versus concentrated to a few families)

- Software (open source versus closed source)

And so on... last decades, the trend seems to be toward centralization in each of them. However, for people to go along with that requires trust in the controlling entity. For example, trust that it is guided by a fair democratic process, or by "enlightened self-interest".

On the plus side, all the conspiracy theorists who claimed that Jon Stewart and The Daily Shows were pawns of their parent multinational media conglomerate, and thus wouldn't negatively cover SOPA, these people were wrong.

On the negative side, no one in the news media or whistleblowers and WTF-watchers like Jon Stewart knew what SOPA was until two days ago.

That's even scarier.

More on the plus side: Jon Stewart and his team of researchers and writers can go from knowing nothing about a topic, to absolutely nailing some of the central absurdities, in less than a week.

Either comedy is easier than it looks or these guys are really good at their jobs.

Either comedy is easier than it looks or these guys are really good at their jobs.

I vote for B.

I think its a little from both columns. The US government makes Jons job alot easier than it has any right to.. and that scares me...

The US government has been a staple of comedy for many, many years.

See: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Will_Rogers His quotes from 80 years ago still sound timely.

I dunno who this guy is, but he sure is funny:

This would be a great time in the world for some man to come along that knew something.

You can't say that civilization don't advance, however, for in every war they kill you in a new way.

Politics has got so expensive that it takes lots of money to even get beat with.

I find it unsettling that Jon Stewart and his researchers and writers can go from knowing nothing about a topic to nailing some of the central absurdities in less than a week, but our congressmen and their staff CAN'T.

That's because Stewart and his team want to learn about the topic. You assume that our lawmakers are that passionate about every bill in front of them.

I'd be willing to bet real money that at least some of Jon Stewart's writers knew what SOPA was before two days ago. It's just a question of when it's prime for a joke.

Not Jon Stewart himself, though. Check out the beginning of January 11th's episode: http://www.hulu.com/watch/320233/the-daily-show-with-jon-ste... He quite candidly says he has "some reading to catch up on" with regards to SOPA.

Did you watch the full segment? It didn't look to me like they had much understanding of the issue at all. It seems like they'd read a few articles about it and threw together a segment whose humour didn't require a deep understanding.

I was a little bit disappointed.

I did -- and I agree with you. I didn't say they had deep understanding. I said they picked out the absurdities of the process.

This is what Jon Stewart does. Some people say that the Daily Show is the only real news, but my counterpoint is that no, it may feel like it's coming from the right place, one of intelligent skepticism. But they aren't going out and getting fresh information about topics, they are just commenting on the lameness of existing coverage.

I'll put on my conspiracy theorist hat: maybe they just waited until it was safe to say something about the subject matter.

Colbert actually discussed it all the way back on Dec 1


no one in the news media or whistleblowers and WTF-watchers like Jon Stewart knew what SOPA was until two days ago.

Or they did know of it, but didn't think it was that important. Maybe when they realised that Wikipedia et al. were willing to go dark for a day did they think "Hey maybe this is a big deal after all"

Scary, but on the plus side the blackouts seem to have succeeded in raising awareness.

Everyone here (besides `jerfelix` apparently) is missing something crucial:

Jon Stewart showed 4 people using the word 'nerd'. Three of them were anti-SOPA! These were the congress(wo)men that were trying to bring in experts/techies/geeks/nerds/whatever. So, I'm sorry that the techies here were insulted by that word (I wasn't!) but most of the people using the word were actually fighting for your side! And if you listened to them in context (instead of such a short clip) I think you would have thoroughly agreed with them.

I can excuse Jon Stewart for ignoring this important fact here because he is, after all, a comedian.

Lofgren (Anti-SOPA) [http://lofgren.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&vi...]

Issa (Anti-SOPA) [http://issa.house.gov/]

Watt (Pro-SOPA) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mel_Watt#Support_of_SOPA]

Chaffetz (Anti-SOPA) [http://twitter.com/jasoninthehouse]

It's not about being insulted, it's about understanding the mindset of Congress. The fact that even the anti-SOPA people see engineers that way is even more concerning.

I think this all makes a lot more sense under context. As I recall (I watched the first two hearings, nearly entirely), somebody asked a technical question like "What are the consequences of [something]?" and one of the supporters of SOPA said something like "I don't know, I'm not a nerd" and that prompted the opponents to respond with "Exactly! We don't know! Let's go ask a nerd!"

tl;dr: They started it :-p

>Jon Stewart showed 4 people using the word 'nerd'. Three of them were anti-SOPA!

So what? Were they anti-SOPA from the beginning, or just when we started getting serious pressure applied... Even if they were instinctively anti-SOPA, would it be fine if they refer to you as something similar to carnival show (okay, that's a geek), as opposed to a concerned expert in the field? That was at least my take-away from the clip, have not watched the full episode yet.

Do they refer to bankers as Till Fiddling Cash Rapists? Decorum counts for something, and we are not a side-show.

You're currently attacking some of the representatives who actually tried to prevent/mitigate the damage of SOPA (yes, before the PR storm) over some quotes you've heard out of context. The term "experts" actually was used as well, it's just not good comedy fodder.

You shouldn't comment if you aren't at all informed on the subject.

My point was not to attack those people, that word means something different. What if they would refer to a member of the Marines as a jarhead?

My point was that The Daily Show may be slightly anti-SOPA by being liberal, but they still have a point about the fact that they:

a) don't understand what they are legislating and rely on experts b) don't appear to have enough respect to refer to these experts as anything other than nerds

I don't care if they are for or against SOPA, that was not my point.

The fact that these Anti-SOPA people had enough respect for experts to seek their advice means more to me than the words they used.

Some people really aren't offended by the term `nerd` or `geek` or even, apparently, `l0ser`.

Lofgren, Issa and Chaffetz were anti-SOPA at least since the first hearing Dec 15th (That hearing is the source of those clips). I'm not sure when you consider "serious pressure being applied".

Jon Stewart showed 4 people using the word 'nerd'. Three of them were anti-SOPA!


I don't care that they were calling us nerds, but if someone does care do you really think the congressperson's interests temporarily lining up with theirs really makes any difference?

I'm glad to see Stewart finally give this issue some coverage. I actually think the more interesting part of this bit was his montage of Daily Show clips using "copyrighted" content. It really underscores the importance of fair use and the grey area that makes copyright violations such a difficult area to police. The nerds bit was funny, but it was just the usual mockery of our elected officials he usually does.

Lawrence Lessig has argued that fair use is not serving its intended purpose: "In theory, fair use means you need no permission... But in practice, fair use functions very differently. The fuzzy lines of the law, tied to the extraordinary liability if lines are crossed, means that the effective fair use for many types of creators is slight."

So yes, it's available to people/organizations with deep pockets (like The Daily Show), but the majority of people take on considerable risk when they try to leverage it.

Is "geek" too cool of a word now that they have to reach for the calculated more insulting "nerd"?

(my apologies to proud nerds - but my point is that's not how they were using it)

So if people who know what they are doing with computers are the equal of geeks, do politicians think they are the dumb jocks in this high school infantile throwdown?

These politicians used the insult "nerd" because they are trying to paint SOPA protesters in a negative light and to distance themselves from responsibility for the legislation's ill effects. ("How should I have known that would happen after we passed SOPA? I'm not a nerd!")

Actually they used to have a department that informed them of all these things in a non-partisan basis. But they shut them down.


I'd like to think this problem will be solved when any of them over 60 now will eventually die off but unfortunately they also awarded themselves gold plated heath care.

Ignorance knows no term limits and is somehow rewarded instead.

ETA: added this if anyone wants to discuss OTA further: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3488826

Given the right position ignorance is pure gold (eg. delivered as cheques by lobbyists), no matter if "over 60" or not.

We have a couple of 30-somethings in German government, they "don't get it" (and/or don't want to) either.

So I'd advise against only relying on the "biological solution".

I said this already above, but they used that word because that's how lobbyists from the MPAA framed the debate for them. All of these politicians are simply repeating the talking points that lobbyists feed them. Extend this to any given issue.

We, as a community, must get more involved in the political process.

If you watch SC2 on GSL with Tasteless and Artosis, you'll see that even "nerd" is no longer pejorative. The greatest compliment they know is "nerd baller". They refer to themselves and the audience as "nerds" all the time, but in a totally friendly way. It's almost a badge of pride.

Do you really think the congresspeople saying "Well I don't know how it works!? I'm not a nerd!" We're really using it as a compliment, though? And as the Stewart clip points out, why couldn't they have just said "expert"? It's clear they were at best making backhanded compliments -- at worst they were intentionally framing it as "here's some weird arcane thing that only nerds care about, not normal people like us!"

"If you watch SC2 on GSL with Tasteless and Artosis" I haven't the slightest clue what that even means, you nerd.

sounds like the same thing as saying "I'm not smart enough to understand this".

It's a point of pride, but only between other nerds. They're taking it back. It's also because "geek" got co-opted by people who aren't actually geeky, so we needed a more specific word for "the type of person who would watch the GSL".

I thought that Stewart made the congresspersons on the Nerds clip look all look like ignorant supporters of SOPA.

The last speaker, Jason Chaffetz, who said "maybe we ought to ask some nerds what this really does" was in opposition to SOPA.

Chaffetz has spoken out against SOPA since at least December 7th. See this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQJrNpAcT84 , where he also uses the term "nerds", but he's saying it in opposition to SOPA. And this clip about keeping the internet open, which dates back to 12/7: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t0Pl83_Apo .

So, yeah, Jon Stewart is funny, but he'll use clips to make his point. This sometimes leaves the viewers with an unfairly tainted view of the person in the clip.

I disagree. It doesn't make Chaffetz look like a SOPA supporter. It just makes him look like someone who believes in stereotypes and put-downs.

He's the only one making that point, though, and it's a point worth making.

I was glad to see him call them out on that. I made a similar comment here on HN about a month ago[1] saying that calling on "nerds", to me, implied a lack of respect. The replies I received, however, seemed to disagree.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3358472

I think what you were seeing was that many "nerds" don't see the term as particularly derogatory and even self-describe as such, though I suspect several of the congressmen did mean to be derogatory in their use of it.

It's derogatory because they used it in a way to imply that they didn't particularly want to be associated with the group labeled "nerds." I've always preferred the term "geek." Anyone else feel the same way?

Reading this thread is much like reading discussions about the "n word". Coincidence? Obviously, opinions probably run deeper for the original "n word" but it is no mystery why many of us are offended when congressmen use the word with an attached set of negative connotations.

I was thinking the exact same thing when I was watching it.

I've always thought "geeks" were Mac users (that was the crowd from which I heard the term used most, back in my Amiga days), and nerds were nerds. That said, I may call myself a nerd, you you best not be calling me a nerd. ;-)

Seriously, though, for a group of people who like to call each other out on standards of conduct, it's pretty appalling that they used a derogatory term to jokingly dismiss their utter lack of expertise in the area.

Here's how someone on urbandictionary differentiates the terms (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=geek):

................ Technical ...... Social

Title ............ Skills ......... Skills

---------- ---------------- ------------

Normie ......... No ............. Yes

Geek ........... Yes ............. Yes

Nerd ............ Yes ............. No

Dork ............ No .............. No

Merlin Mann once explained it like this: "A geek is somebody who can fix your computer. A nerd is somebody who could fix your computer, but first has a need to talk to you about fixing your computer for a good while."

I prefer "nerd".

Personally, I prefer 'nerd' to 'geek', but that's just because the former has a more appealing sound. In terms of actual meaning, it seems like difference without distinction.

But I agree about the way that either can be used as positive expression of self-regard, while still coming across as derogatory when used by people who are not in the club and unsympathetic towards those who are.

In this regard, both words differ from 'dork', which never seems to be a good tag.

That's very true. Not exactly politically correct, now are they?

They were derogatory in their use because they trivialized the fact that these "nerds" are really just experts.

Well, I agree with you. The word can certainly be used endearingly in some crowds, but this is absolutely not it. This is entirely disparaging.

Language is important.

There was a post on here recently about the communication problem, and it's spot-on. Just like we can't characterize SOPA/PIPA as "the anti-piracy bills," we can not allow ourselves to be demeaned.

SOPA/PIPA are the internet censorship bills. They are the defeating due process bills.

We are experts. We are architects and engineers of the technical infrastructure.

Call yourself what you want but realize that, in the greater world, these terms serve only strip you of authority. That's unacceptable.

I'd like to have seen him make a comment to the effect of "really? Name calling? Are these people not aware of the names people call politicians?"

Perhaps in addition to what he said, sure. If I had to choose to use just one of the two, however, I'd definitely go with his "they're called experts" remark.

Oh, agreed. Just the thought of politicians calling people names is so crazy to me, is all.

Really? "Nerds?" I think the word you're looking for is "experts."

Fun fact: the SOPA page on Wikipedia was still accessible during the blackout.

It wasn't initially, they corrected that fairly early in the day though.

All pages were (intentionally) accessible, just with a little inconvenience and without disclosure of the instructions.

One way as to just use the mobile version of the site: en.m.wikipedia...

Ironic and sad having to do this has become so commonplace nobody even blinks even more so considering the subject.

I refuse to use region specific links like that. Sure the two are separate channels but breaking up the world into specific regions just segregates the Internet into castes of countries. There's no reason I a Canadian shouldn't be able to click that link and view Comedy Central a website on the world wide web.

All I can say is that the irony of my comment wasn't lost on me. :(

When I was a kid, nerds were picked on...now Congress is feeling threatened by us and calling our class out by name. That is a change as big as the technology the nerds brought about.

The video linked in the article was not available here (Ireland), so for all others affected, this should be it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSc9eKOcH3w

At least until Viacom takes it down, as they love to do

It's funny because it is available in Romania/Europe.

Last time I checked, Ireland was still part of Europe :-)

That's why I said Romania. Most online content is usually blocked for me. Even YouTube wouldn't allow me for a long time to create an account tied with Google Apps, as the feature wasn't available in my country.

That's why I said it is funny - usually these websites are excluding everything but the US with maybe Germany and UK added later. However in this instance I think they've got a black list - as in, allow everyone except these countries, like Ireland (allow all versus disallow all + exceptions).

Interesting: I'm in the US and the vid wouldn't play for me either. Galaktor's link does, however. Perhaps it's something else but censorship?

EDIT: mis-credited the link

I am happy to be called a geek, nerd or expert. Thank you for the complement. :-)

In this case, however, they're laughing at you, not with you.

The joke is on them, however. "Nerds" always win in the end.

This whole SOPA thing - or variations thereof - will only be small hiccup in the grand scheme of things. The advancement of technology and its ensuing freedom will trump any current setbacks. When the older generations move on and those who have grown up with the power of technology at their fingertips are in power, who have relatively open minds and understand the freedoms that technology provides, I think we'll really see some accelerated progression in both tech and overall quality of life for everyone.

We should definitely continue to try to pave the way for future generations and reduce these setbacks, but I believe the fact still remains that freedom through technology is inevitable. It may take another couple of centuries of dealing with ignorant politicians, general closed-mindedness, and corporation unwillingness to innovate and change with the times... but we'll get there. I just wish we could live to see it.

I'm afraid future generations won't appreciate it like we would.

> The advancement of technology and its ensuing freedom will trump any current setbacks. When the older generations move on and those who have grown up with the power of technology at their fingertips are in power, who have relatively open minds and understand the freedoms that technology provides, I think we'll really see some accelerated progression in both tech and overall quality of life for everyone.

I'd like this to happen, but this seems to me very similiar to each past generation idee fix.

First christians in Rome in first century thought when everybody will convert, there would be obviously no sins, and it will be almost haeven on earth. They were right with conversion dynamic, but wrong with the social implications.

The same for revolutionists, romantic nationalists, liberals, communists, hippies, and now it's our turn. Every time the change happened, but the consequences were not exactly as bright, as young idealists predicted.

I'd put my money on this time being exactly the same.

"The joke is on them, however. "Nerds" always win in the end.".

But which ones - the tech nerds or the legal nerds?

"And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

That is fair -- I think most of us are laughing at them too.

The trouble is that even a law made by an idiot is valid.

I suppose this is only fair, as I certainly use the term "politician" with the same dismissive tone of voice on occasion. And I have to admit that there are skills involved in being a successful politician that I don't much care to understand or appreciate. So henceforth I will use the term with more respect. Perhaps they will do the same someday.

On the positive side, this whole anti-"nerd" attitude actually inspires people to become tech-entrepreneurs who are financially and socially powerful.

This is where it's all heading http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiocracy

I really wish I had the karma to downvote this. Idiocracy was a funny story, but it's hardly a documentary. Every time someone brings it up seriously, I die a little bit inside.

Eh, you could say the same thing about any "cautionary tale". Unless it's not a funny story, but you know what I mean.

But I don't necessarily disagree with you.

I'm constantly torn between believing that we're really living in novel times, and the cliche that "the more things change, the more they stay the same". That is, three hundred years ago, there were a lot of ignorant, illiterate, and quite possibly just plain dumb people. The writings that survive from that period and that we're most exposed to today tend to be from the most educated folks, though. So it's easy to get the sense that everyone in 1712 was highly intelligent, had a great grasp of the English language, also knew at least Latin, and probably French, too, and that they always had interesting, novel thoughts. Then when you look around the world today, it's easy to convince yourself that society has really deteriorated.

On the flip side, there really are a lot of ignorant and just plain dumb people today, too. People who say "We're turning into Idiocracy!!!!" recognize this, but they perhaps don't recognize that we used to be Idiocracy too. Perhaps we've always been Idiocracy?

We're all DEVO!

You've seen the clips of the hearings and the movie and were not honestly reminded of it? So you have no sense of humor? That makes me die a little on the inside...

That's one tough to parse headline.

And we are surprised by this? as the US is like the UK where a lot if not the majority of politicians and the 1% are lawyers.

Out in the real world "engineers" are considered the little chap in oily overalls (and a flat cap) who "fixes up the roller dont cha know"

Oh and that's how real engineers are seen in teh UK not some hobby php programmer cobbling together some online shoe shop by cutting and pasting

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