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Was 1971 The Best Year To Be Born A Geek? (boingboing.net)
24 points by tptacek on May 14, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 28 comments

The things he listed are very important to him BECAUSE he experienced them in that way. I'm 21, and I could concoct a similar argument based on geeky things I have experienced. Heck, I was basically growing up alongside the Internet. I was in high school during the explosion of social networking. I have watched things like podcasting and blogging get absolutely huge. Plus, I had Wikipedia at my fingertips for high school papers :) ! I got my first cell phone in high school, and my first 3g phone soon after. I can get online and talk on the home phone at the same time. It goes on and on.

As for movies, he may have me beat, but perhaps only because it takes time for films to become "geek classics." I will say that The Matrix blew my mind in middle school, I don't know how many times I watched that one.

So your generation grew up exploring Internet and social networking, and that's what you are excited about most. But I think you take devices you use as granted - computers, mobile phones. Our generation (I'm 1969) was exploring these devices themselves, how they work and how to make them work our way. We learned computer languages from listings in magazines and by trial and error. We thought AI is around the corner, we were sure computers can change our lives, but never foresaw Internet.

Edit: oh, and we thought digital electronics is an essential part of software engineering. So different now.

Well that's exactly it. Kids these days are adept at using the toys the grownups - us - built for them, but that's all they know. Ooh, another website, how exciting.

I think people tend to exhibit a bias toward their own childhood. What was technically different about new technology in the 70s versus such now? It's not like everything had already been invented/discovered in the 70s or 80s, and when I grew up in the 90s we were just "refining" or "recycling" ideas. And granted, much technology is more mainstream now, but I don't think actual geek culture has changed much. There's still a relatively small number of geeks that are (trying!) to keep up with the bleeding edge, just like there was in the 70s, or for that matter, presumably since the dawn of man. The base 2 number system was described over 2000 years ago, and algorithms over 1000. Schickard and Babbage designed mechanical computers 4 and 2 years ago, around the same time Leibniz and Boole were formalizing ideas of logic (all respectively). The transistor was invented in the 1920s, and by the 40s we had "modern" computers. People like Godel, Church, Turing, Shannon, and Hartley laid the groundwork for formal computer science and information theory in the 30s. Presumably the number of geeks that took interest in these developments HAS increased over time, now even to the point of being mainstream (or at least "cool"). No less, at any point in the timeline geeks could be tempted to think that theirs was the generation of true exploration and innovation, while later ones take earlier work for granted. They'd be partly right: we always take prior discovery for granted, in fact, that's why technology advances, for the good of us all. But be careful lest you think your own reference point a foundation-less foundation for all subsequent innovation. I definitely wish I shared some of the experiences of earlier geekdom, like hacking around with DOS to fit a certain app in memory, learning to program from magazines, etc., yet me and my mind thrive in the current Information Age. We children of the 90s get bad rap for being lazy, which certainly is true, but there are still those of us who are and will be fixing, studying, discovering, hacking, and inventing with all the curiosity and fervor of our technological forefathers.

That was really interesting to read and I think I agree but I'd like to offer one criticism, it was really hard on the eyes with the lack of paragraphs.

Yikes! My bad. I was typing that in a sort of stream of consciousness. I'll try to format better from now on.

Well, it is exciting especially if you built it.

We have the luxury/advantage of knowing how things work from bottom up, starting from semiconductor physics and logic gates to web server and browser architecture, but an important thing for us, grownups, is to never stop getting excited with new stuff.

Well, true, but there's no technical reason that all this Web 2.0 social networking stuff couldn't have existed in 1997. Endless variations on the theme of "generate some HTML from a database" are just not significant in the wider sense.

There's no technical reason that printing couldn't have existed 2000 years ago. (Ok, it did exist in China but not in Europe anyway.) Apart from technologies there's also social demand and historical necessity. I don't think Flickr and YouTube would've been appreciated and would've challanged traditional media in 1997.

81 here.

The (consumer) Internet came at the absolute perfect time for me.

I had started programming pretty young, dabbled in electronics and other stuff, but had nobody around to share the passion with. So I abandoned computers and went to play the guitar for a couple of years (I sucked).

Then at around 14 the Internet kicked in. I ordered TCP/IP Illustrated Vol. 1 and Practical Unix & Internet Security from Amazon. I started to learn Unix and network programming, made lifelong friends online, and had a magical time learning together and escaping the boredom and banality of high school back in Brazil.

I loved that time. It made a huge difference in my life. As much as I like Star Wars, I'd rather have the Internet in my adolescence.

I'm a few years younger, but I just realized that we were probably the first group of kids to enter adolescence with access to internet porn...

81 Years Old? I think the Internet kicked when you were around 65, not 14.


2009 and Y2K rears its ugly head again.

Well I'm a bit older than that ('63) but I experienced all those things the same way. Star Wars, arcades, Atari, learning to PEEK and POKE on an Apple ][+ from the one-liners (255 characters) at the back of nibble magazine, Byte mag. and Robert Kurosaka's mathematical recreations, plus Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor. The birth of the Mac, the Amiga, the Jackintosh (DR's GEM), all the the CPU wars... BitNet before the Web... Many other sci-fi movies are just as geek-worthy if not more: alien, Terminator and T2 (the special effects!) the Matrix.

Pah! anytime in the last 50 or more years is a great time to be born for a geek. It continues to be great.

I'm not too much younger (1975), and I disagree. I didn't get an internet connection until I was 21. How could a geek think not having the internet is better than having it? When I was young, if I wanted to learn something I had to go to the library, where they may or may not have had something relevant. There's lots of other tech that was not available to the '71 cohort as well. If I could have chosen my birth year it would have been later, not earlier.

As far as pop culture goes, the '71 crowd may have been able to see Star Wars in the theater, but I'd rather have a larger selection of movies on tape or DVD than get to see a few movies in the theater at a few particular times. All the SF stuff (books or movies) is still available today, and if a book or movie is really worthwhile it'll still be worthwhile a few decades later. It'll always be the same book or movie, it's not like the difference between seeing a band live in their prime and listening to a CD.

(The original has been smushed under the bB traffic).

I'm '76.

'71 would have allowed me to go to college and still work in a startup throughout the first bubble.

I still feel pretty lucky about my own timing, though.

Says a bunch of people born in 1971...

According to Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers, 1955 was the best year for geek births. (Bill Joy, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates)

"1955 was the best year for geek births"

For outliers, maybe, but for the rest of us, NO!

I was born in 1955, on the same day as James Gosling, inventor of Java.

But I was not an outlier. I was pretty much a regular person from a middle class family who went to public school and aspired to be the first in my family to graduate college. Here's the problem with being born "too soon":

I graduated high school, college, and graduate school without ever having touched a computer. Think about that. Neither of my colleges even had a Comp Sci department. I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, far from the leading edges of Boston and California. Nobody, I mean nobody knew anything about computers. They were giant machines that sent your electric bill. Period. Unless you were fortunate to be close to the geek counter culture of Northern California or had parents with millions of dollars, forget it.

I graduated with an MBA and got a job as a restaurant manager (1978 was a lot like 2009). Then I picked up a COBOL book and practically memorized it for a difficult to get programming interview. I got the job and the rest is history.

I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had been born 10 or 20 years later. But it's a wasted thought. What if I had been born 10 or 20 years earlier. I'd probably be a retired car dealer now.

The great thing is that now it just doesn't matter. I took a while to get here, but I can't imagine doing anything else. Maybe that's why I'm here so often: making up for lost time.

Could you memorize a book today? How's your memory? Upgrades?

I said "practically"

My memory is as good as it ever was. So is my physical health. (I am extremely grateful for both.) I'm doing my best work ever right now.

To those who suggest you peak earlier in life, all I can say is take care of yourself and you may never peak.

For that era anyway...it could be that 1990-1992 is another "golden age" of birth years, but those kids are still 17-19, so we'll have to wait a few more decades to spot the trend :)

So, the point of having this post on HN is pretty simple: to get you to post "I was born in 19XX, and here's why it was the best year to be born a geek" (or the worst, or whatever).

Obviously there's no science in the original post.

To dwell on such questions is to miss the opportunities of now. Nostalgia is a lotus plant.

I disagree, as do some of the commenters:


Cultural climate changes with time. And it is worth asking whether all of the changes were for the better:


Sometimes "nostalgia" is not an empty illusion, but is instead a longing for the days when actual progress based on original ideas was taking place. This longing can be a productive one, if it motivates you to invent, deviate from prevailing trends, and otherwise fight back against enforced mediocrity.

1969 was the absolutely best year to be born a geek.

Because why?

Because that was the year I was born.

So, what's my point? Most, if not all, of us were born during the golden era of geekdom (DOB > 1940). Picking the best year is probably a very personal and subjective exercise.

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