Every year for our anniversary my wife and I go someplace for a week to relax and celebrate another year together. Last year we stayed in a cabin in Big Sur on a cliff over the Pacific.
This was not an ordinary cabin. It had a hot tub. It had Wi-Fi. It had a Sonos and multiple speakers in every room. We are a couple of geeks after all.
At one point the hot tub broke (or someone was messing with it and turned it off, I can’t remember now) and I called the maintenance number to have someone fix it. The guy who responded drove out in his little cart carrying a large bag of tools and wearing clean, gray coveralls. Within a few minutes he figured out what the problem was and the water was running again.
“Anything else?” he asked.
“Oh yeah, well, the music player stopped working,” I said pointing at the ceiling. (Someone had been messing with that too.)
“The Sonos? I can fix that.” He pulled out a laptop and set it on the desk. He waited for it to connect and signed into some interface. I am not familiar with the Sonos system but it looked more like some kind of router utility.
He then said, “We keep every cabin on their own sub-network. Were you trying to play music from your laptop?”
“Sorry but that won’t work. The way this is configured your Wi-Fi is on a different network so you can’t see the Sonos and so you can’t stream. I have a cable if you want to play music from your audio-out.”
He put the Sonos back on whatever subnet it is normally attached to and then left. I didn’t really think much about it until we got back.
The maintenance man who fixes the hot tub, delivers firewood, and carries a bag of tools also carries a laptop and troubleshoots subnets.
This was notable to me.
In fact, all year I have been collecting these examples in my head as if they are all pointing at something that I still have been unable to completely express in writing.
In June I wrote a post (“I Give Up”) that was an attempt to get at it from another view. And all year I have been tweeting and talking to people about something that feels like a big change. I have just felt frustrated I can not fully express it or completely comprehend it. Robin Sloan wrote something here on Medium that really gets at it in a way I have not been able to.
I think the thing that is eating industries: newspapers, music, movies, second rate mobile phone manufacturers…it’s eating us too. Being literate in tech isn’t enough anymore. As Robin said above, knowing how to put up a web page or write a little web app is fine for a niche hobby or an amateur pursuit, but if you want things to look good and work and be something more than a semi-broken thing you have to invest a real amount time and thought.
Knowing how to fix and maintain a simple network was once a pretty specialized (and lucrative) job. A person who could deploy and configure fifty web boxes on command was once a minor deity. Writing an application that could be installed on 400 million devices was inconceivable by an independent software developer.
But now that stuff is accessible to anyone who wants to invest a very small amount of time. If you don’t know how to do them then at least you know where you can go to learn the basics in a weekend.
This is the new normal, and in 2012 I think I learned to embrace it.