So, today I met a truly delightful person. She's in the same field as I am (well, current field as I tend to be a bit of a Jack of all Trades these days -- I mean computers, naturally ;->). She's intelligent, knows her hash, has a pleasant demeanor and generally strikes me as competent. With my Murphic luck, she's reading this right now, but I'm willing to take that risk. Oh, oh, but lest you think that this is another love-lorn rambling from another starry-eyed web-publisher, let me assure you that this opening stroke has about as much to do with the rest of the ramble as the first act of a post Season-Six episode of The Simpsons has to do with the other two acts.

No, no... what struck me with this person, who was otherwise a joy to meet, is that she reminded me in many ways of other aspiring computer students in my program who are scrabbling to grasp the brass ring of a diploma and a job fighting servers for the rest of their days. These people are generally good at what they do, but what they lack is an appreciation of the past. Note that I have absolutely no evidence that the person whom I met today lacks this; for some reason she just got me to thinking of other people in my program. But ah, I'm getting distracted, so back onto topic. I've found that most of the people in my program are either utterly resigned to the status quo or else are quite delighted to always move forward while never looking back at what led to their paths being blazed. They look at old computers and snigger. They look at 80s shows and laugh. Hells, they even look at a Sega Saturn and say 'what the hell were you supposed to play with this thing?'

If you've looked at my main links page, you might notice that there are dozens of Links to the Past (hey... that would make a great video game title!). Classic video games... classic computer systems... old TV, old movies... old role-playing games... the list is endless; or at least it seems so when I'm searching for dead links. I find the past to be a fascinating thing for more than just providing the History Channel with something to broadcast between Hitler retrospectives; I find it to be a learning tool of the first order. I love to look back and see where we came from and how we got to where we are now. I like to trace the path from 'then' to 'now' and see what mistakes and what triumphs we had getting here. I like to find out how many licks it takes to get to the centre of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop, but history tells me that it's three! See? History is useful!

Er, anyway. What scares me these days is just how often people seem to be willing to stand on the shoulders of giants and never really bother to look down. Perhaps it's a function of how much we're specializing these days; you can't really be a computer Jack-of-all-Trades any more (well I lie there, I like to be one myself and I know friends who can claim the same title) due to how much emphasis is placed on finding your niche. In my computer program they've started to stream the new intake, sending them into either Programming or Networking and never the twain shall meet. This is really unfortunate because I think that diversity would improve these new whipper-snappers and begin to teach them to innovate, think outside of the box that they're given to regurgitate their answers into, and ultimately become stronger tech-heads.

Right, so what does that have to do with the past? Quite frankly, we're making our on-line world easily pigeon-holed. Knowledge of the past is generally only essential for those who are trying to innovate, invent or otherwise push forward their field (though it's useful for everyone, in my opinion). Most of the kids with whom I'm training take a very Reactive approach to what they're learning: they try to assimilate whatever new comes down the pipe, as it's presented, and don't play with it until it breaks to learn its limits. If a feature or use of something isn't immediately obvious, they simply wait for the next release which makes said feature noticeable. There's no need to delve into what's come before; it's trite, it's been done, and there's no time for any of that because the newest version of Access (now with Tint control) has fallen from Microsoft's crapper into their feed trough and they have to embrace it with both arms wide.

I honestly do think that there's little chance of us turning around this tendency to specialize and ignore the tools of the past. Some people might even argue that there's no reason to as it's the same evolution that we've seen in electronics, aviation and mass-murder (strike that last one). Personally, I don't think we can turn it around but I also think that we should strive to be the Unreasonable men and women within our special pigeon hole. You know the old quote? The reasonable man adapts to his surroundings and the unreasonable man adapts his surroundings to him, or something like that, and thus the unreasonable man is the agent of change and innovation? I think that there's always going to be room for that in any field, in any pigeonhole, no matter what. It's just a matter of finding that way to be unreasonable. And it's a matter of having the will to stretch your wings and flying.

Ah well. Off to go play my Atari 2600...

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