Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska was recently found guilty of corruption, and seeing him in the news brought back the memory of the senator describing the Internet as a "series of tubes."
For technology experts, this is one of the funniest misunderstandings of technology ever uttered publicly. I mean, could he have been more clueless? As Bugs Bunny would say, "What an ultramaroon."
So, sure, go ahead, laugh it up. But, remember, Stevens isn't alone in his ignorance. There are still lots of politicians, judges and even company CEOs who are just as clueless and unaware of how IT works.
If you don't believe me, spend some time reading the news. You'll regularly see stories about someone being charged for hacking who basically did the technical equivalent of walking by a building and noticing that the doors were open (for example, doing a Google search and seeing documents that shouldn't be public).
Or there are stories about judges trying to enforce decisions that aren't possible from a technical standpoint (like giving a state control over foreign Web domains).
And don't forget the many proposed laws that make no sense technically and have the ability to damage whole sectors of the technology economy.
The fact is that there are lots of important and influential people out there to whom much of the Internet and other important technologies are as mysterious as magic. And this isn't just an age issue. Sure, young people might be adept at using technology, but that doesn't mean they have any idea how these technologies actually work.
And this is a big problem for all of us. The less that influential people understand these technologies, the more likely it is that they will inadvertently do damage through the policies they advocate and the actions that they take.
So how did we get here? Cars are complex; so is the phone system and traditional broadcast television. Yet most people have an overall basic understanding of how these things work--definitely more of an understanding than they have of computers and the Internet.
To understand how we got here, look in the mirror. That's right--many who consider themselves experts don't really spend much time explaining things to lay people.
In fact, many technology "experts" go out of their way to keep others in the dark, almost reveling in their personal reputation as a tech wizard. But this doesn't do anyone any good.
All of us need to do a better job at explaining and exposing technology to those who may have a hard time grasping how it works. After all, there really isn't any benefit to ignorant workers--and especially ignorant bosses. The more people understand technology, the easier our jobs should be.
And greater public understanding of technology will provide even bigger benefits. It will be harder for politicians to propose technically idiotic laws if a large number of the populace understands that the law makes no sense. The same goes for judges and other influential people.
So, go ahead and have your laugh at Ted "A series of tubes" Stevens. But let's hope that this kind of technological ignorance is on its way out. Because there's nothing funny about the damage that can be done by influential people who don't understand technology.