History means "Before self" LONG (was RE: legality of web links t o articles?

Subject: History means "Before self" LONG (was RE: legality of web links t o articles?
From: KMcLauchlan -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 12 Feb 2002 17:32:13 -0500

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- jci -dot- com [mailto:Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- jci -dot- com]
replied to a youngster who had said:

> >The WEB was conceived primarily for commerce;

> Ooops. That one's so far wrong it hurts. The web was
> conceived as a way for
> Physicists and other scientists to share information
> electronically. Just
> ask Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who created it while working at
> a Eurpoean
> high-energy physiscs lab. The business folks, as is their
> wont, only hopped
> on the bandwagon after it started drawing a crowd.

Oy! These kids are makin' me feel old.

But, this is something we might keep in mind as we discuss
this'n'that on this list. The people you are addressing
rarely have the same background that you do. When you and
I talk about the web, we see it as something that arose only
in the most recent quarter (fifth?) of our lives.

When the young'ns talk about it, they're talking about
something that was largely in place, as part of the
general background of existence when they were toddlers
or schoolkids. Certainly, for all of their working lives
and probably most/all of their "serious" student lives
(i.e., when they had to do actual research), the web
was the acknowledged first -- and often last -- resource.

For many, what's not on the web never existed. With the
exception of specific history sites and encyclopedias,
web content goes back a dozen years or so. Before that,
is pre-history... something you can speculate about (if
you're bored), or that old-timers jaw about, but that
didn't actually... like... happen, y'know?

When we old farts skim a mess of topical links and
articles, we have the perspective of having actually
BEEN there for many of the events or their antecedents,
so we automatically weight or discount what we read.
We also tend to put more trust in content that's
published on paper -- partly because it's what we
grew up with, and partly because we feel that anybody
who goes to the expense of publishing a physical book
or magazine is likely to take some precautions against
libel suits and such.

For somebody new, any given article on the web is likely
to carry as much weight as any other on a topic, and
the newer folk seem less likely (in my experience) to
either HAVE printed texts lying around, or to go get
same in a (gasp!) library. ("...For Dummies" books,
and "Learn C++, Python, Java and XML in 14 Minutes"
texts nothwithstanding...)

I'm not sure how much those varying viewpoints can
affect the reception/use of technical material, but
they surely can and do affect how argument and
persuasive material are received.

But here's an example of how history can affect
daily life:

It has been observed that a service provided by
a cable company is often less reliable than an
equivalent service provided by an older phone
company. Why might that be?

Well, when the phone company was The Phone Company,
they may have been arrogant (as holders of an
enforced monopoly), but they also had "a sacred
trust". They developed standards of technical and
engineering procedure that generally meant minimizing
downtime. That meant they were careful about adding
new stuff, but they maintained the existing stuff to
a high standard, and they could (and usually did)
respond to breakdowns with focussed effort by well-
trained, well-equipped personnel.

The cable company was a relative upstart, and their
much shorter tradition was as a purveyor of mere
entertainment. They may have had a monopoly from
the government (yes, youngsters, they did, for
decades... :-), but most of the regulatory requirements
were in regard to content. By contrast, the government
required the phone companies to be very available and
reliable, but had nothing to say about content.

So, the cable companies developed a model of service
that was literally based on push-pins in a map.

You contacted the phone company, reporting a problem
with your phone line, and within hours (or days, at worst)
they sent technicians to exactly the right place to make
your phone service work again.

You contacted the cable company, reporting a problem
with cable reception, and -- after mollifying you with
promises that they were addressing your problem and
would have it fixed shortly -- they'd stick a pin
in a map, and go back to reading the sports pages.
After a bunch of your neighbors called in with similar
complaints, the number of pins in that area would
suggest a statistical probability that the problem
was within a certain area. They'd send somebody out
with the truck to look at the lines and at the
neighborhood connection boxes. Likely, they'd find
the cause of your problem and fix it, months after
your complaint.

The phone company had a history of quick, precise
response, largely because their network was set up
that way. They knew where every line and every
circuit lived, and could trace and test each one.

The cable company had a history of ... er... casual
and imprecise response, because any given customer
was just a pin in a map. Their network allowed
far less-specific location of problems (for one
thing, it was one-way-only for many years), so
feedback was hard to get.

When the phone and cable companies began to offer
cellular phone service, they each brought their
existing strengths and philosophies to the new
service. Cable folk were good at marketing, and
phone folk had all those engineers and techs and

When the phone and cable companies began to offer
high-speed internet access, .... blah, blah, blah.
That's why you can usually get a prompt fix for
an ADSL connection, whereas you tend to live with
marginal cable-modem service before the company
gets around to fixing it. As well, if you have
a cruddy cable-modem connection, your neighbors
are likely to have similar, while on ADSL you
have your own private DSL circuit to the phone

Certainly, they're converging, and the differences
are blurring, but if you know the history, you
can still spot the trends and can understand the
lingering differences.

I think this suggests that when your audience
can include a mix of ages, your instruction can
profitably contain some explanation for both
segments -- historical stuff, so the new kids
understand why all this backward compatibility
nonsense is included in the product, and perhaps
some "obvious" 'what does this do' stuff for the
old folks who need to pick up stuff that the
younger crowd knows by immersion. ("It's kinda like
Napster, man... waddya mean you never used Napster?
Where do you get your free MP3s? Oh, c'mon!
**Everybody** swaps MP3s.")



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