Response to Will the Last Computer Hobbyist Please Turn Out the Lights? by John Dvorak on 10 October 2003

If there has been a decline in computers as a hobby, it's because of the decline of hobbies in general.   A hobby takes commitment.  For this short attention span generation, all our kicks must be turnkey. 

In the era of interstate highways and Airbuses, getting there is no longer part of the fun.  Foreplay is out, the main event is in.  Romance is out, Viagra is in.  Enablement - give me the tools, and I'll make what I want - has been replaced by consumerism - give me what I want.  Why go to the Hobby Shop to build a model sailboat, when you can go to F.A.O. Schwarz to get one ready-made?  Why go to Radio Shack or HeathKit , when you can go to HiFi Buys or CompUSA - or better yet, download it?

And what of the Internet, which began as a wonderful template for cyber hobbyists?  Thanks to its corruption by the spiders and snakes - what dittoheads call free enterprise - the Internet and its interface, the World Wide Web, envisioned by its inventor as an enabler for The Rest of Us, has become no more than a huge bazaar, where everyone is a lurker and content creators - the would-be hobbyists - are only in it for the bucks.

Can the computer hobby survive?  I think so, but probably not in America where, thanks to the assassination of the humanities by the academy, we are in a mad dash to become Frank Herbert's Dune Navigators.  Hope lies in Europe and in Asia, where the hobbyist is not an endangered species. 

Abroad, the hobbyist is indirectly supported by governments which do not follow the American gospel of "Give them what they want," and which have higher priorities than policing the royalties of Disney and Microsoft.  It is not a coincidence, that in these parts of the world, software piracy is rampant.  (Nor is it a coincidence that Linux is the brainchild of a Norwegian hobbyist.)  Thus, a kid in, say, Denmark, still gets his desktop cabinet from one neighbor, PII motherboard and drives from another, a bootleg Windows 98 from another and maybe a fast connection subsidised by his co-op.  Or maybe he's a member of an Amiga club.   The adults?  No different.  If they want a computer other than the one they use at work, they build one themselves. 

This ray of hope may not last if the triumphalist American culture of 24/7 convenience stores and 24/7 televised opiates continues its relentless infiltration of the street and virtual world of the European and Asian hobbyist.  As the wise old men like to say, I'm not too encouraged by what I see, but I remain an optimist.