The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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May 30, 2014

Four technology fallacies

— As any historian, psychologist, sociologist or scientist will tell you, the truth of an idea has very little to do with how fast it spreads and how well it’s believed. Twitter, Upworthy, BuzzFeed, Tumblr and others can spread simple, easy-to-remember notions among friends, acquaintances and even news sites. Some of these ideas, like #YesAllWomen, are admirable and well-intentioned. Many of these ideas are terrible, however, and it drives me fairly crazy to see the same mistaken thoughts being endlessly regurgitated across social networks and online media. So at the risk of giving these ideas even more undeserved exposure, I present four technology fallacies I wish to extinguish.

1. No, the technology business is not computer science.

Ninety-five percent of what you read on Valleywag, Pando, Business Insider and the like revolves around business news about technology companies. Correspondingly, 95 percent of the tech business is the equivalent of marketing toilet paper in different colors and different wrappers. If you think that you are any more technically informed for reading this news, you may be fooling yourself. Perversely, the tech business often trumpets just how ignorant it is about the technological guts of the products that make it rich. For example, when I looked at Business Insider’s hit piece on Marissa Mayer, it was clear that a cabal of white male executive dinosaurs, none of whom knew the first thing about computer science, had ganged up to badmouth Mayer to writer Nicholas Carlson. None of them criticized her technical knowledge, of course. That wasn’t an issue for them, and it didn’t appear to be an issue for Business Insider, either.

The greatest computer scientists of all time are not people you’ve heard of, with the possible exception of Alan Turing. People like Alan Perlis, John McCarthy, Edsger Dijkstra, Donald Knuth and Frances Allen are brilliant minds, and they devoted themselves to the theoretical underpinnings of computers that made possible all the software applications we use today. Many programmers are not even familiar with their work, but these computer scientists contribute more to computers today than Apple’s Tim Cook does.

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