If I were the kind of person who grumbles about feeling ancient, I’d have been doing it today.
I got reminded that younger hackers don’t know the bit structure of ASCII like their tongues know the back of their teeth. Man, we all grokked that back when I was new at this.
Nowadays not so much. I’ve actually seen younger hackers be confused about, say, how to generate a NUL from the keyboard. And I’m all, like, “How can you not know this?”
I’m bothering to post because I think I’ve figured out why this changed. The kids are OK, it’s conditions around them that have shifted.
I think it was the death of RS-232 hardware terminals in the early 1990s that did it.
Back before software terminal emulators ruled the world, there was just enough functional pressure to use all manner of odd nonprintable ASCII characters daily – and learn what control-foobar key combinations generated them – that newbie hackers tended to upload the ASCII code table into their heads pretty quickly.
This doesn’t happen reliably any more. Yes, hackers still learn individual magic keystrokes in various interfaces like vim or Emacs, and ^C as interrupt we will probably always have with us.
But, for example, who types ^L to clear a screen anymore? Or ^W to delete a word? Or, even rarer, ^S and ^Q as pause-resume. OK, I’m sure some people do – but I was actually surprised when ^L and ^W just worked in the software terminal emulator I use under i3. Because they don’t everywhere, and as a result I lost those finger habits – oh, about twenty years ago, I’d guess. And, of course, younger hackers probably never learned them.
The kids are all right. It’s the world that changed around them, and tools generate culture. Sometimes, when a tool goes away, a bit of cultural commonality – like everyone knowing ASCII down to the bits – silently evaporates with it.
I wonder if, a quarter century from now, one of today’s young hackers will find himself saying “What? You don’t know HTML tags?” And if I’m there, I’ll chuckle.