[Smashy the Hammer] [An Aspiring Luddite]
I carry no phone
An aspiring Luddite
In a wired world.
[Jeff Berry]
Jeff Berry is an early adopter of the Internet and the Web, a late adopter of Twitter, and declines to adopt Facebook. With the death of Google+, he's experimenting with federated platforms. He admins a medievalist Mastodon instance, and can found on the PlusPora diaspora pod. He hates cell-phones.

Is HTML the Latin of the 21st Century
25 November 2010

[Hammer Carving Html] Not too long ago, say a couple of hundred years at the most (yes, I know, that's geologic history in Internet time), in order to be thought of as an educated person, one needed to speak Latin. Greek was good, too. This tradition goes back well into the middle ages, of course, when almost all of what was written was Latin, until the rise of vernacular writing eight-hundred years or so ago.

I know, I'm making some gross generalizations, and of course this is only true of the Latin west, but the fact remains, that Ben Jonson was able to write in his memorial poem to the dead Shakespeare that Shakespeare had "small Latin and less Greek," and that such a statement was synonymous with "had little formal education."

Things changed, though. Writing in the vernacular came on strong, with Shakespeare himself a fine example. But to be truly educated, one needed Latin and Greek. One had to read the great authors in the original. (And who was it who said that you've not really experienced Shakespeare until you've read him in the original Klingon? Ah, Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI - thank you Intarweb. But I digress.)

There are those today who still need Latin (or Greek) for their studies, and a surprisingly large number of primary documents remain untranslated. And fewer and fewer people are capable of translating them. Latin comes late in life and in education to many of us, and the process of learning it, well, facile non est. Even so, it is no longer required of an educated person, a literate person, if you will, that they read Latin.

The same arc is even now taking place in the realm of technology and computers. We speak of people as being computer literate when they are end users of programs written by someone else - even as people speak of the magnificence of the Odyssey although they've only read it in translation, and arguments are made about the literal meaning of Biblical passages by people who are reading an English translation of a Latin (see, Latin!) translation of the original material.

Have you ever wondered why so many websites look the same? The reason is simply this: very few of us still write html. Instead we use "templates," or we use "web-authoring tools," or "select a theme." Fewer and fewer of us can create those templates or program those tools or code up those themes. And every one of those things has encoded in them certain assumptions. The authors must leave their stamp on their product. So when you use those products, those assumptions, those choices and preferences, are perpetuated in your product. I'm not saying that's always a bad thing, though it does make for a fairly homogeneous Internet, at least in terms of design, and that's kind of boring. (I mean, really, all those Facespace and Mybook pages with identical look-and-feel, this is what we're doing with the Internet?)

However, in a larger sense, what that means is that we are using tools but losing the ability to make tools. And that, my friends, is a little scary.

So reclaim your Classical Computing Heritage. Hand-code some html, there's nothing quite like lovingly hand-crafted html. While you're at, learn some Latin. And hug an engineer.

Valete, amici et amicae.


Government Computer News is in search of more geeks. (Link added 3 December 2010)
The author is non Latin-literate, but is working on it. This article was lovingly hand-coded in static html as was done by (Internet) generations long gone. © 2010 Jeff Berry
The Aspiring Luddite