I Don't Want To Be A Nerd!

The blog of Nicholas Paul Sheppard

About the Blog

I'm a computer engineer by training, and I've worked as a developer, researcher and teacher in computer science and engineering for all of my professional life. I enjoy the technical challenge of building computer systems and software, and I believe firmly in the power of engineering (not just of the computer sort) to make our lives more comfortable. But, many years ago, I also decided that I didn't want to be a computer nerd.

Partly, I grew tired of the constant "need" to upgrade my computer and other devices to bleeding edge versions that, by and large, didn't solve my problems any better than the previous version. I got tired of everyone assuming that I knew or cared about the technical specifications of every device on the market. I developed interests and hobbies outside of computing, grew bored of computer games, and I enjoyed the time I spent away from a computer.

Working as a researcher, I learned more about disciplines outside of computing. I became more aware of how computer technology co-operates (or fails to) with psychology, society, law and economics. I began dreaming of making a contribution to knowledge that would mean something to people outside computer science. (I'm yet to make that contribution.)

Reading articles on The Conversation over the first year that it was in operation, I found myself writing a series of comments questioning what I saw as "computer nerd orthodoxy", that is, opinions and beliefs widely held by computer enthusiasts with limited knowledge of or interest in fields other than computing. These included the supposed obsolescence of intellectual property law in the computer age, the supposed inventiveness of open source software, and the moral fibre (or is it self-interest?) of the computer industry in standing up to law-makers seeking to make laws that reflect the interests of industries other than the computer one.

By this time, I was working in a software development position in which I didn't get to write much, and I enjoyed the opportunity to pen a few thoughts. But I could see myself appearing as a bit of curmudgeon, and writing a few paragraphs here and there wasn't enough to discover and communicate all of the nuances of the subjects involved. So I thought that I could develop my thoughts more fully on a blog.

I'm hardly the only computer scientist or engineer to have differences with techno-utopians, cyber-libertarians and others besotted with the power of computers to solve everything. I've long followed Bill Rosenblatt's Copyright and Technology blog (and DRMWatch before it). Clifford Stoll published Silicon Snake Oil in 1995, Bob Seidensticker published Future Hype in 2006, and Jaron Lanier published You Are Not A Gadget in 2010.

Nonetheless, I'm embarking on the blog as a way for me to get my own thoughts organised (and recorded), and as a chronicle of my personal search to be a computer scientist without being a computer nerd.