Ls&Cs: Computer world views; science fiction vs. fantasy

A couple non-political posts today.

The Verge, 22 Sept: File not found, subtitled, “A generation that grew up with Google is forcing professors to rethink their lesson plans.”

No the link is not bad or expired; that the title of the article, and is the point. How quickly things change. This begins with an astrophysicist teaching her students in 2017.

Gradually, Garland came to the same realization that many of her fellow educators have reached in the past four years: the concept of file folders and directories, essential to previous generations’ understanding of computers, is gibberish to many modern students.

The bigger was how our mental models of the world, in particular the directory/folder paradigm of computers on a file, can become outdated. Some people are better at changing than others.

But it may also be that in an age where every conceivable user interface includes a search function, young people have never needed folders or directories for the tasks they do. …

And so on. It’s generational; students have never dealt with directories and folders; oldsters have trouble learning Instagram.

I’ve always been a bit nervous about this phenomenon myself, which is why I wish there were easy ways to capture web-content in text files (or Word docs) for long-term capture in case the websites disappear. For example, I have to renew my domain name every three years, otherwise, while the files would remain on the server, they wouldn’t be accessible through “” Even worse, should Locus magazine go out of business (a distinct possibility), how long would anyone pay to maintain the server containing 25 years worth of Locus Online files, not to mention those for “” and “”?

Put a provision in my will? Or print every page of those sites out and bind them physical books? Or would anyone care?


John Scalzi’s blog: The Big Idea: Jason Sanford

Scalzi, one of the most popular current SF authors in part because of this frequently updated blog, on which he invites guest authors once or twice a week to discuss the background of their current projects.

Sanford here is discussing the distinction between science fiction and fantasy, long thought by some to be opposites, but others to be parts of a single spectrum, and so on.

His thesis is that “fantasy [is] the end result of all science fiction.” Because ordinary citizens do not understand the technology that we use every day, our devices are magical, matching Arthur C. Clarke’s third laws, that says “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

This is a defensible thesis, but not a complete one I think. Sure, some technology has been incomprehensible to ordinary people at least since the first use of electricity, I suspect; mechanical devices, no matter how complex, could be demonstrated and understood by people in terms of their understanding of how objects in the world work.

There’s still a difference between devices most people don’t understand but *which are understandable* in principle, because they rely on what we know about the real world, and magical devices which can’t be understood, because they have no relationship with the real world, but which work as long as you follow the rules (or possess sufficient virtue, or whatever).

I have my own thesis about the difference between SF and fantasy that I’ll be laying out in detail real soon now.

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