Technology Books are so yesterday…

September 3rd, 2015 3:28 pm Category: Optimization, by: Jim Piermarini

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New technologies spring up each year, seemingly every day. There are new programming languages, frameworks, and processes. There are new personal productivity gadgets and apps. There are new internet connectivity method (routers, access points, bridges, cable modems, etc). It can all be pretty daunting if you think you need to stay ahead of all this change.
Back in the day, I used to go to a brick and mortar bookstore and peruse the computer books, and end up purchasing one or several books to read cover to cover to learn about the new item. I have purchased many dozens of technology related books over the course of the last 20ish years in my attempt to stay abreast of the bow way of technology change. I realized recently that I have not purchased a new technology book in several years. I got to thinking about why, and if I would be comfortable with my wife’s requests to toss all these old books. My first reaction was, I can’t get rid of these, they are books! But then I got to considering whether I had opened them anytime in the last 5 years (or 10 or 15!), and projecting if I would actually open them anytime in the foreseeable future. The short answer is, I really can’t see when I would open these books, ever again. So I asked myself why is that? And the answer is not that I have given up my desire to stay current, not exactly. Nor is it that all the technology books are hopelessly out of date (although some are). The reason I don’t think I’ll be using these books ever again has to do with the way the internet and Google specifically, has changed the way we learn.
Learning a new technology is easier today than ever before. You can google the subject and find not only the theoretical background of the subject, but also many practical implementation details and examples. For instance, along with myself, I know several people who are self-taught in SQL Server using only the resources available on the internet. And we are actually pretty competent at it. Given that experience, I know that I could also easily learn mySQL (I have had to learn some of that recently) or Java (again, I’ve dabbled in it) or Mongo DB, or any other no-SQL database new technology. Knowing that there are ample examples and many resources for new technologies, has allowed me to redefine how much I need to know before I can be confident that I can tackle a project in that new technology. I know that the syntax is a detail that will soon fall into place. Now that syntax may be in a book somewhere on my shelves, but it is also on the internet, just a few clicks away. I’ll opt for the easier and faster approach to getting that info anytime. So the books stay on my shelves, (or get donated as my wife is suggesting.)
Keeping current today in technology is a different thing than knowing all the depth and detail of a subject in previous years. Google is everywhere, and has almost everything, and it is not going away any time soon. Think calculators, and the way they were reviled for undermining the need to learn how to do math in your head. “You can’t always count of having a calculator!” was the refrain that was meant to show the importance of being a competent math mentalist. But today there are calculators everywhere, on my PC, my phone, and on my watch (if I had a google watch), and for that matter, so is Google! It seems reasonable to expect that the internet and google search will be with us for some time. People have accepted the pervasive and ubiquitous nature of internet, and it is changing the way we devote our limited brain space to information and knowledge. For me, I think that it is more important to know some critical details along with the broad understanding of the subject matter. I can offload the rest of the details to the internet to be retrieved when I need them. My local cache of info can be more specialized, in that it can be very deep and narrow in some areas while very broad and shallow in others. I don’t mind being shallow in broad areas, since even in the shallow areas, I know I can go to any depth I need very quickly with the help offered on the internet. That is how my view of knowledge has been transformed away from packing it into my head and onto my bookshelves, and using into the internet age. Others may have a different need of knowledge, and that is a discussion beyond my understanding. And while there may be a book on this subject, I’m sure I could google it.

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