Software's Sorry Sycophants

I’m so fascinated by all of the new colloquialisms, and l especially like the “early adopter.”  As far as new, at least in America, we love new stuff, and old stuff is left to collectors. By the way, the prices of antiques are going down sharply. It seems the new young people have little interest in old stuff, the prized antiques of yesteryear. That antique table and chair might be better on the auction block real soon, as I do not see young people praising old stuff. You might be able to get money from things like old baseball cards and comic books, but as America’s national pastime loses followers, (baseball is losing audience and the major league is deliberating how to change the game to attract more followers)  and fewer and fewer young people read printed material of any kind, I would bet that even your prized baseball cards and comic books are going to lose value soon. By the way, the digitalized baseball cards are here, no longer bothering with those cards or that shoe leather tough gum. Baseball fans young and old can now trade digital cards. Somehow, that just doesn’t seem the same.


Those that appreciate history have always been few in number, and the few is getting smaller and smaller. Young people have no interest in the old, and the old stuff is getting tossed in the trash as no one outside of a museum wants to see it. The treasured antiques of the elderly folks going into nursing homes are going unsold, given away, or scrapped. When I was young, both of my grandmothers had things that her grandmother had used. Today, I think few people have things that belonged to their grandparents or use them. I use garden tools that my grandparents used. I guess the tools of my grandparents have been replaced by power tools, or lighter, more “ergonomic” tools.


As backward as I seem, I was an early adopter of the internet. I was logging on to Netscape when Microsoft was still just thinking about the internet, when the search engines were Lycos, AltaVista, and Infoseek. I was using word processing when WordPerfect was fighting with WordStar for supremacy.  I know this makes me seem old, but the point is that the now quite proud, self-congratulatory “early adopters” are what is getting old. So while you early adopters break your arms patting each other on the back, take some advice from a prehistoric early adopter: it’s not what it seems, and it’s not all that. Unless, of course, it is all that in someone’s eyes, i.e. an early adopter “social media expert” is highly coveted talent, whereas someone who can explain the evolution of these technologies and their application in context is not even a dinosaur, they’re a fossil, frozen in time and rock hard. 

You can remember when you had to roll the mouse up the pad several times to get to the top of the page, so what. You can remember when one graphic would take up all the memory of the desktop, or all of the space on a 3.5 inch floppy disk drive, so what. You saved all of those graphics and incredibly valuable files that you slaved over, only to have computers that would not know how to take a 3.5 inch floppy disk, and even if they did, the software is far too old to open up the file. You were an early adopter, and what did it get you? Nothing. I have had the same email, and I am not kidding, for well over twenty years. I don’t have numbers, or initials, or anything like that, I just have the name, no numbers or initials, because I had the internet when you bought an interface, hard-wired it into your computer, and called California to adjust the baud rate so that you could get Netscape to come up. Once in a cover letter long ago, I stated that if the firm I was sending the letter to didn’t have an email, I wasn’t interested in working for them; now that’s an early adopter, an unrecognized and uncompensated talent. 


As in so many things today, being part of something, or holding a credential is only important when some people say it is, and when it isn’t, then, it means nothing. “Early adopter” is becoming another “catch phrase” meaning, I think, a young person. In terms of bragging rights, “early adopter” is a convenient description but a hard to prove credential, not like a college degree, where you either have it or not. In terms of most of the “early adopters” if embracing the technology is important, then I blow anyone born after 1990 into the weeds. But, of course, the early adoption I did means nothing now. It’s really rewarding to know that your work means nothing; kind of a warm feeling inside. Of course, we cannot choose what is important to people. When you’re young, experience counts. When you’re old, youth (often described as “fresh perspective” or “recent college grad”) counts.


I’m thinking that “early adopter” might not be a good idea. Consider what is at stake. You can invest thousands of dollars in hardware and software, along with thousands of hours mastering skills that become obsolete before very long. The skills you developed are “transferrable” when you are young, but not if you’re old, no matter how much insight your experience gives you. Insight is not needed or even faintly desired, and stop talking about all the software that has been left on the sidelines; no one wants to hear about wasted efforts and misspent young adulthood thinking someone would value those skills or that knowledge. Like so many bragging rights, age and wisdom put them in perspective, and no one wants that either. It’s like an antique thought, colorful but no longer useful.


Dino Manalis Added May 3, 2018 - 11:23am
History is an important lesson, while software is constantly evolving, we need more doctors; nurses; and pharmacists to take care of us!
Dave Volek Added May 3, 2018 - 11:33am
Nice article Jeff. A little trip down Memory Lane.
I was not an early adopter. I usually waited until some hardware or software had some proven staying power; then I jumped in. Being on this second wave brought me some attention from my social circle as some kind of computer expert. But I gained a lot of my knowledge from the early adopters.
In the 1970 book, Future Shock, Alvin Toffler said something quite profound. Unfortunately, I don't have the quote handy, so I will just paraphrase:
The skill of tomorrow will be to learn new things very quickly--and readily discard them from memory when no longer necessary.
While I still have considerable computer skills, at 59 years old, I find it very frustrating to learn new things. For example, it takes me about an hour to download pictures from my iPhone to the hard drive. I can't remember how I did it last time, so it's always back to the videos to get retrained. At least I can recognize the video that explained things very well!
A couple years ago, I was having troubles with one of my work computers. Our IT guy came in to solve my unusual problem. He spent about three hours finding what he needed to find to do the repair. I was amazed at him surfing away until he found what he as looking for. This is indeed a skill (and a level of patience) I don't have.
A few months back, an in-law asked me to do a Power Point presentation for a family event. She seemed to assume that because I had more computer skills than she, the job would be easy for me. It has been about 12 years since I used PowerPoint. I have forgotten most of features. And the software has been updated since then. I just saw a big learning curve to conquer that will take more time and frustration than building the actual presentation.
Maybe I should have taken on the task just to get the experience. But I thought by the time I really need PowerPoint again, I will likely have forgotten it, so I will need to be retrained. Not much point for me to go down this path.
Jeff Jackson Added May 3, 2018 - 12:06pm
Dino, the AI (artificial intelligence) robots will take over soon. Thanks for your comments.
Bill H. Added May 3, 2018 - 12:09pm
Great write, Jeff-
I still have audio equipment from the '60s that spins circles around most crap available today (other than some of the $20K+ audiophile specialty stuff). My favorite speakers are a pair of Rogers Sound Labs Nevada XT's which are driven by a homebrew all-tube amplifier running two matched pairs of Gold Lion KT66 output tubes driven by original Telefunken ECC83 tubes.
I still spin vinyl on a Thorens TD 190 turntable and will stoop to playing a CD if my favorite musician of the time is not available on vinyl. Seems that most of the neighborhood kids have never heard music out of anything other than earbuds or a car system that emphasizes only the deep bass and the upper highs, so they are pretty blown away when the first hear real quality analog music that lacks the edgy roughness of digital material.
Most crap these days is designed to have a minimum life, be totally unrepairable, and of course, have the ability to be instantly obsoleted via software updates or a time-out routine embedded in the software. This is a windfall for the manufacturers, as in the case of a smartphone, the profits margins can exceed 70% based on production costs and retail price. Also the fact that the average consumer has been trained that they need to replace their "smartphone" on the average of every 22 months.
I still have a shoebox full of old Topps baseball cards from the era of around 1960-61. I suspect there are some really valuable ones in the box, but I have to get around to finding the box and checking the value of the cards. Names like Mickey Mantle, Frank Howard, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, and Julio Javier come to mind.
Jeff Jackson Added May 3, 2018 - 12:16pm
Thanks Dave. I had some data entry work for one of the academic programs in college, and I only had to do it about three times a year. They tried to teach it to me, and I told them I was never going to bother to learn something that I would never use again in my life, and that they would have to walk me through it every time. Why waste an hour on something that lazy college student assistants didn't want to do? I just dragged them over to the keyboard and had them do it.
Strangely enough, even different software, has similarities. There are some off-the-wall really goofy programs, but, from my experience, those are usually several programs that were integrated by a systems analyst because the organization decided not to just get a new program. I had one that had 23 steps (I counted them) and they showed it to me about 5 times and were amazed that I didn't just pick up that software in the blink of an eye.  It was one of the most mixed-up, repetitive pieces of amalgamation I had ever seen. I didn't stay long. That software had more steps than a differential equation! Thanks again for comments Dave. 
Jeff Jackson Added May 3, 2018 - 12:26pm
Thanks Bill - Yes, if you take those old vinyl records, run them through a graphic equalizer (at least 12 bands) tape the music on to a reel-to-reel, you'll hear all kinds of stuff that CDs can't bring back. Sounds like you listen to the really good stuff, which was built to last and yes, the modern sound systems have nothing on them at all. My Sansui AU717 is tremendous. 
You might want to have those cards appraised, and don't go with the first offer, or look for some on eBay and see what they're bringing, I'm sure you'll get a more than a few dollars out of them. Thanks for the comments an insights. Our planned obsolescence has really made that old saying "they don't make 'em like that anymore" really true. Thanks again for comments. 
George N Romey Added May 3, 2018 - 5:27pm
Jeff interestingly early pioneers often get pushed out of the way as a product matures. I will bet that five years from now most people under 21 won’t know who Steve Jobs was. Think of the pioneers of the automobile now forgotten.
Jeff Jackson Added May 3, 2018 - 6:29pm
Excellent point George. Bill Gates keeps hanging on. OK he's a billionaire. Microsoft has been buying startups like crazy for the past few years, trying to get back on the cutting edge. The truth is Gates took such pride in his first-time out of the gate accomplishment, that he missed all kinds of technological advancements, starting with the internet, then phones, and on and on. He had billions to invest and he let the entire tech world eat his lunch.  Thanks for the comments George.
George N Romey Added May 3, 2018 - 6:52pm
Jeff Microsoft and now Apple are simply living on their legacy products. I live for the day when Office gets sent to the technology graveyard to join Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, Netscape and Blackberry.
Doug Plumb Added May 3, 2018 - 8:24pm
I have a love/hate relationship with computers. I like Youtube for math and engineering lectures, as well as philosophy, but if the computer breaks, I call the computer guy. I'm not interested in using the little space i have in my head for stuff that is useless tomorrow.
Jeff Jackson Added May 3, 2018 - 8:34pm
Exactly Doug. If I have to learn it for work, fine. As far as all this learning it so it can be obsolete, I'm done with those ambitions. Thanks for comments.
Jeff Jackson Added May 3, 2018 - 8:37pm
Yes, George, some of us remember those old obsolete things. I think Blackberry is hanging on by a thread, trying to match all of the technology that has whizzed past it. Think of all the time folks spent mastering something that is essentially meaningless. Microsoft now bills by the month, but my older computers are hanging on without paying that. Thanks for comments.
Mark Hunter Added May 4, 2018 - 3:40am
I used to be an early adopter, but it seemed like more trouble than it was worth; now I wait for others to work the bugs out. As for history, I've always been a fan--now more than ever. The only difference is, these days I can't brag that I'm a history buff despite still being young!
Neil Lock Added May 4, 2018 - 3:59am
Jeff: Nice article.
I don't think I was so much an early adopter, as simply one who was in the right place at the right time to get involved in these things. And I was a natural for software development, too. But these days I get pissed off by the planned obsolescence and change-for-the-sake-of-change that is so rampant in today's software. Each version of Word I have used since Word 2003, for example, seems worse than the last.
Jeff Jackson Added May 4, 2018 - 6:20am
Thanks Neil. You've brought up an extremely salient point Neil. Today, we have a lot of managers and "leaders" who, in order to further themselves, need to change things to get noticed, no matter how good the current circumstances. The "change for the sake of changers" are some of the most irritating managers around, and I honestly think that they have harmed American business. From my personal experience, they almost all have in common taking the "organizational leadership" coursework, where they teach you to pat your subordinates on the back while you move along on your career. One of the organizations I work for is adopting a change for the sake of change right now, and I can't wait to see if it works, which no one thinks it will. Thanks for your comment Neil.
Jeff Jackson Added May 4, 2018 - 6:21am
Thanks Mark. The difference between old and young historians is that older historians have lived through some of it, like the Cold War. Thanks again for your comments.
Doug Plumb Added May 4, 2018 - 6:26am
I've been learning computational science for data. I'm not working in tech and I want to. So I'm doing some grad level computational algebra. I don't really know what to think of this data craze, but I was always short on my linear algebra knowledge and it seems to be transforming engineering as well, according to profs.
Doug Plumb Added May 4, 2018 - 6:26am
Anyone know anything about data science and the math that goes with it?
Even A Broken Clock Added May 4, 2018 - 10:18am
Jeff, good article. I feel I was one of the early adapters - our company bought IBM PC's and we started on e-mail back about '84. By '86 I had bought a Radio Shack PC with the 5 1/4" floppies that I used to try to write on. But as Bill said, sometimes technology hits a sweet spot where improvements aren't needed. I also have Klipsch speakers and a Yamaha receiver from the early '80's that still work wondrously well.
Doug, my son is a recent computer science graduate and he took linear algebra, but my math was (couldn't do it now to save my life) more towards differential equations, so I can't help much myself.
Bill H. Added May 4, 2018 - 12:05pm
EABC - I actually started with an Altair 8800 kit, which was soon replaced by an Imsai 8080. Storage was via a Tarbell cassette interface to an audio cassette. The programming language was machine code, which eventually migrated to Altair BASIC, written by Bill Gates and Paul Allen when they ran MITS back in 1974-76
Jeff Jackson Added May 4, 2018 - 6:44pm
Wow Bill, I think you qualify as an "aficionado." It is certainly true that the newer consumer stuff can't compare with the older models. I always wanted a Bryston amplifier, which are still in production. Brystons come with a 20-year analog and 5-year digital warranty. I've never actually listened to one, because they are rather rare. Thanks for the comments.
Jeff Jackson Added May 4, 2018 - 6:46pm
Wow, Even, you're bringing back even more memories. The 5 1/4" floppies are really rare now. I think they qualify as antiques, and might someday have value like the old "Electrola" record (were they records?) players. Thanks for the comments.
Leroy Added May 4, 2018 - 10:28pm
I would still have my Trash 80 today if my dog hadn't chewed up all the cords.
My company used Word Perfect at the time.  For my PC, I chose Ami Pro.  I thought it was the future.  It wasn't. 
When the 3.5" floppies couldn't hold enough data, I went with the 3.5" SuperDisk.  I thought it was the future.  It wasn't.  I didn't see the USB flash drive coming.
I was a late adopter of Smart Phones.  My first was a Palm.  It still works today, but it has seen its better days.  I used it as an alarm clock for a few years.  Now it is relegated to the dustbin of history and a drawer.  Neither Palm nor Blackberry survived to be a major player. 
When it became time to replace our development software, we went with the most advanced platform at the time--Delphi.  It is already relegated to the dustbin of history.  It didn't last half as long as its predecessor. 
My first PC was a CompuAdd.  I used it for ten years, upgrading it several times.  In terms of quality, it is the best I ever had.  But, it didn't survive the PC wars.  I've had my current one for going on eight years.  Someone at work called it an antique, but the truth of the matter, it is still near the top in performance.  It outperforms most desktops on the market today.  Of course, if you want a higher performance desktop, you can buy faster ones.  I tend to use my laptop out of convenience anyway.
I did start out using Netscape.  It was no doubt the best until Microsoft did it in.  I've hated Windows Explorer ever since.  Firefox picked up with Netscape left off. 
I've had some good calls, but most turned out for the worse.  I'm like the government--not much good at picking winners.
As the software gets more and more expensive, we seem to be moving towards open sourced software.  Someday, the software will be free.
Jeff Jackson Added May 4, 2018 - 11:36pm
Thanks for the comments Leroy, interesting as always. I still think about all of the work that is lost forever on machines that went out and software that no longer works. I'm hoping that free software comes out soon, I'm just not willing to pay for software by the month, and I'm hanging on the stuff that I have that still works, as Microsoft has cancelled all the activation codes on all of my old software making it impossible to work on my newer computers. Thanks for your comments Leroy.
Bill Kamps Added May 5, 2018 - 8:19am
Jeff, being an early adopted means you are on the bleeding edge, and they dont call it that for no reason.
Sometimes being an early adopter is fun.  But if you are doing it in business you had better make sure the benefits outweigh the risks.
You can invest thousands of dollars in hardware and software, along with thousands of hours mastering skills that become obsolete before very long.
True to an extent.  I dont think the basic problem solving skills, or learning skills ever become obsolete.  If you have learned one set of software applications it is easier to learn others.  You develop a sense for what the software MUST do, and so you look for the capabilities you need rather than just give up when stalled.
Specialized hardware is another matter.  Many paths in hardware become obsolete.  8-track tapes are a consumer example, but in the computer world there are lots of abandon paths, and if you invested heavily in one of those, then that investment is just lost.
Jeff Jackson Added May 6, 2018 - 1:07pm
I agree Bill, basic problem solving skills as well as once you know what to look for to get things done with software, you can transfer that knowledge. You know it. I know it. No one in Human Resources knows it. To HR it's the new stuff or nothing. Thanks for your comments Bill.
wsucram15 Added May 7, 2018 - 12:26am
I learned word computing on word perfect. I can remember using a mouse and trying to get in in place.  Seems like forever ago now. 
Ive always collected vinyl, people dont appreciate it today. Well there is an art to it that takes some skill, that most dont understand, lets put it that way.
However I cant say that people dont like old stuff or collectibles..mine are mostly gone, I dont think people appreciate what belongs to another and its history, as long as they can make a buck.
As far as the younger generation, you are probably right, too much baggage, unless of course it is neat or can be sold for new technology and gadgets.
Mark Hunter Added May 7, 2018 - 12:51am
Nothing wrong with vinyl!
wsucram15 Added May 7, 2018 - 2:35am
love crisp. Hard to find though.  Especially the ones I buy. I have old picture discs and colored albums, some signed that I will never play.  I always have a duplicate to listen to though.
Mark Hunter Added May 7, 2018 - 3:14am
I haven't seen a colored album in ages ...
Many years ago an elderly couple gave me their old console stereo record player (with an extra plug-in speaker). The first record I ever played on it was my brand-new score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture; you have to understand that before that the only music I was listening to outside of radio was on a portable cassette player/recorder.
Blew me away. And I still have that stereo.
Bill Kamps Added May 7, 2018 - 10:29am
No one in Human Resources knows it.
Jeff, fortunately in every job I was hired, HR, found out about me only AFTER I got the job.  Getting hired through HR is like winning the lottery.  At our age, we have to get hired through our network, by the hiring manager, because we are solving some kind of problem that is causing pain.  Also, lots of small companies out there that dont have HR departments.
Jeff Jackson Added May 7, 2018 - 7:51pm
You have a great point Bill. I've worked too many graveyard shifts that didn't make any contacts within the industry, except for the other graveyard folks, not much there, just us gravediggers.  Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added May 7, 2018 - 7:52pm
Wow Mark, glad to see some people playing the old stuff. Those things will exist as long as people want to remember them. Thankd for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added May 7, 2018 - 7:54pm
WSU vinyl is coming back, so they say, and there are things digital cannot pick up, so vinyl stays with the afficionados. Thanks for your comments.

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