The Technology Backlash

Riding the waves of technology in the computer industry is exhilarating when you're twenty, but there's a certain emptiness that begins to creep in around the edges by the time you're forty. When you've spent the last twenty years doing nothing but frantically hanging ten on the latest, biggest, coolest waves of technology, fatigue inevitably begins to set in. There's an increasing sense of Dj vu - of doing the same thing over and over, with only small improvements to show for it each time. On a bad day, you can feel like you're living the movie Groundhog Day, and you've just woken up to the melodic strains of Sonny and Cher singing "I've Got You, Babe". Again.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Nice post Jeff, I agree that it is good to switch off from technology and to get back to knowing yourself and nature once again. My way of doing this is to go hiking once a year to a remote location for at least a week (this year it is Iceland), where I will have no mobile phone, no computers, not TV, no electricity…

When you step off the technology treadmill, even for a week or two, you step back on again feeling a lot more invigorated about the whole thing.

“Riding the waves of technology in the computer industry is exhilarating when you’re twenty, but there’s a certain emptiness that begins to creep in around the edges by the time you’re forty.”

Very good post. I’m 35 and I’ve been programming since I’ve been around 10 and the emptiness started to creep in around 32 on bad days.

And when arguing with younger developers or seeing the next hype, I most often hear “I’ve Got You, Babe”.


Stephan Schmidt ::
Reposita Open Source - Monitor your software development
Blog at - No signal. No noise.

Personally, I only read information that’s been hand-chiselled onto on stone tablets. Because it takes so much time, there’s a built-in filter and I know it’s really important information. And that totally outweighs the increased difficulty of accessing the information.

On the other hand, there’s the comments on YouTube…

Corker of a post, Jeff.

Having just returned from a three day trip to Cornwall, and during this time experiencing my first full day away from the Web in six months - I must say, I didn’t find the disconnection easy.

One day into the trip I found a great pub that provided free wifi for paying customers - it’s a good thing their lattes were nice. But I’m a fresh graduate who’s incredibly hungry to get into business, so it’s understandable that I can’t bear being without the Web at this point in my life, right? I want to generate an income asap, and I want to do it on the Web. Why should people expect me to disconnect?

My brain wants information that is relevant to me, and up-to-date too. Your average UK newspaper doesn’t provide this, so I turn to RSS feeds collated by Newsgator. To get RSS feeds, I need the Web. That’s just the way it is. I don’t care how information is delivered, I just want to find it interesting.

The funny thing is, Coding Horror is kinda guilty of this phenomenon itself.

You post several times a week, often interesting and insightful stuff, always with lots of links which take me around an hour to follow through completely. Could I live without them? Sure. Yet Coding Horror is one of the blogs that survived when I purged my Bloglines account from 95 to 35 feeds.

I thought this passage from the Stoll interview was very interesting:

You’re not saying there are dangers to the Internet equal to the dangers of nuclear energy?

Oh no … I’d say it’s much closer to the promises and reality of a highway system in the 1970s. The argument then was that high-speed roads would be good for the country, good for the cities, good for farmers, good for defense. They will bring us closer to one another. All of these promises are similar to promises of the Internet. But no one asked the obvious question: Might this highway system be bad for the country? Might it create a civilization where people waste hours everyday commuting because they have moved to the suburbs? Might the highway system make the U.S. dependent on foreign oil?

Similar grand promises were also made for television in the 1940s. They said it will inform and entertain us; it will make us a closer nation. It will be good for the family by providing a place for all of us to gather in the evening. These promises are also surprisingly similar to the promises made for the Internet. The reality is that television has helped devastate society. But no one asked the obvious question: Do we want or need television?

Do we have the choice of accepting or rejecting a new technology? Doesn’t it just get thrown into our laps, and we don’t find out its ills until much later, when it may be too late?

As the stone-chiseled joke above alludes to, it’s a bit absurd to claim that printing on paper implies higher quality publications. We only need to look at…almost everything printed on paper.

Greate article…and i hope it wount be that bad in the end…

I think the worst example of the addiction to technology is the Blackberry. I live in Europe where they’re not so prevalent yet, and every time I go to NYC for work I’m amazed. There’s people checking their mail in meetings, in restaurants, in the movies, in nightclubs. It’s ridiculous. When was the last time you received a piece of mail that absolutely 100% could not wait until tomorrow? I’ll tell you… never, that’s when.

I swore I’d never get a phone that checked my email, but when they release the iPhone with 3G in Europe, it’s going to be difficult :slight_smile:


I’m 50 in a couple of months, programming since my late teens, and I’m still finding continual delight in learning – and playing with – new stuff. Being held back by the dead weight of the old, and not being able to make real use of new stuff – that’s the drag.

Being able to abstract from the particular to the general is one of the key skills of the software trade – and as much for getting the kernel of value from any particular new and transient tool-set, as for writing the code. That way you don’t end up nailing your colours to the mast and going down with whatever particular tool you are using at the moment.

The internet may not have been on the roadmap of the future when I was a kid (where are my skiing holidays on Mars?) but it’s something that I find serendipitous and wonderful. If nothing else, it is a marvellous mechanism for finding affinity groups without regard to distance. I never got on with the telephone (something for serious use only in childhood); and gave the TV the boot 20 years ago – by contrast, on the 'net, I feel at home.

When I’m out of connectivity, it’s like half my memory and 95% of my social contact has been rudely cut away. A week spent walking or cycling may be good for the body (depending on how many beer stops and hearty meals are involved); but I find myself intellectually starved at the end of such a holiday.

Top tip, spend time in front of your wife for some more analog experiences :wink:

Paul Graham wrote a great essay about the difference between ‘wise’ and ‘smart’.

After I read it I realized that the huge effort I made acquiring transient knowledge about computers was making me smart, when I really wanted to be wise. I haven’t figured out how to be wise yet so I have settled for trying to be smart about things that don’t change every other year.

By the way Jeff, this is easily the most interesting and useful blog I have found on computers. I really look forward to checking in every morning. Thanks for the effort.

Stoll had some interesting conclusions in Silicon Snake Oil, but there are also some statements that are funny today, like: Pictures will never establish in the internet, because of modem speed …

Professional Writers and Editors don’t help

Newspapers : They have professional writers, professional editors and are often less reliable than a blog by an amateur

The thing that really makes information reliable is accountability and authority, an article in Nature is more likely to be correct than one in a tabloid newspaper, because Nature has a reputation of being reliable and want to keep it, whereas the tabloid does not care …

This also applies to the Internet - some sites have a reputation of being correct and try to keep that reputation to survive … Some don’t care

Thanks for writing such a good blog. I’ve been reading for a few months now and really enjoy it. Definitely part of the “quality” side of the internet.

I went to a computer conference a while ago and dutifully took notes all through the sessions and keynotes. A more experienced teammate of mine walked around without a notepad or pen. He says, “If they talk about something new and interesting that is worth remembering, I’ll remember it.”

There is the voice of wisdom.

The debate of digital veracity highlights what seems, to me, to be the problem with ideas like Wikipedia. Sure, it’s great that the entire world can contribute to Wikipedia and make the articles as accurate as possible. But it’s also possible for loons to post a bunch of inaccurate crap that smells like truth. We all know that it’s already happened. Sure, I use Wikipedia to satisfy curiosity about a particular topic. But would I use it to research something that is important? Nah. Then it’s time for the books, or the digital versions thereof.

I liken it a bit to MTV in the mid-80s vs today. Before it became completely unwatchable, the music videos of today had camera shots that lasted maybe .5 seconds? 20 years ago the camera lingered – you could really watch the guitar player or vocalist.

Even looking at some old movies it is amazing to see how long a camera shot would last and how the actors had to learn their lines and carry on for sometimes a minute or more without a cut.

For me it has become a challenge every day to lengthen my attention span in a world that seems to work at shortening it.