The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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Freedom's Edge: The Computer Threat To Society (review, by Milton R. Wessel, 1974)

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activities are a sign of the times. "More and more people
freely admit, indeed positively boast, that they are not
loyal to society and do not intend to serve its interests."

This attitude is probably not new, but the openness in
expressing it is. Indeed, for years our moral attitudes
toward crime account for a peculiar ambivalence toward
criminal behavior itself. On the one hand, it is feared,
despised, and vigorously condemned, Yet it is also secretly
admired, and we are always eager to hear the details of
some outstanding criminal exploit. While not quite as lively
as The Godfather, or The Great Train Robbery, The
Electronic Criminals nevertheless will give you some insight
into the emerging types of crimes, one of which almost
assuredly by 2000 will have the title, "The Crime of the

David H. Ahl
Morristown, NJ


Freedom's Edge: The Computer Threat To Society, by
Milton R. Wessel, l37pp., $4.95. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1974.

"A communications medium transmits messages. It also
may affect the message itself.

"A computer system processes data. It also may affect
the data itself. lt is the theme of this book that when the
computer's impact on the data is great enough, it changes
the environment in which we live."

It is symptomatic that some people still insist that the
time in which we are living be labeled "the atomic age"

instead of "the computer age." Both technologies are
approximately thirty years old, but while uses of atomic
power are still almost nil, computers and data processing
are so much a part of our world that we rarely even notice
their existence. Therein lies a danger. Therein lies the threat
to society.

ln many ways computers are a unique invention; a
general purpose invention. Computers do not simply affect
one industry, nor one segment of society, nor one country.

No aspect of our culture is left untouched: business,
recreation, art, religion; they are all becoming computerized. Beside the
influence of the computer, that of the
omnipresent television set pales to insignificance. Perhaps in
all of history only the invention of the printing press can
compare in impact, and if you live in a large city you will
find that the type in your daily newspaper is set by

Milton Wessel is saying that we are right now tightrope
walking on freedom's edge. The increase in use of
computers is nothing short of phenomenal. ln a very few
years the pattern of the future will be set, and for the most
part we do not realize what is happening to us, Computer
usage is so all-pervasive that only rarely does someone catch
a glimpse of the whole picture and this is usually a trained
professional, not the person in the street whose future is at

Wessel's book is not technical in nature, but sociological.

lt is primarily a book of unanswered questions and very,
very tentative suggestions. It is a quite readable book and
assumes no technical expertise on the part of the reader.

Wessel is himself not a computer professional but a lawyer.

He has spent much time involved in the legal side-effects of
a computerized society and much of what he has seen
worries him.

Wessel is not opposed to computers. That is not the
question at issue. Our modern lifestyle is absolutely
dependent on the computer. Wessel is repeating a plea
which has been raised many times in the past and is best
summed up in the too often ignored motto of the Sierra
Club: "Not blind opposition to progress, but opposition to
blind progress." At this time the growing use of computers
represents blind progress.

What we are blind to are the side-effects of computer
usage. Most computer systems perfom quite well the tasks
they were designed to perform. But what else do they do?

Wessel's point about a computer system affecting the very
data it is processing is not a fear that some machiavellian
computer is going to run amuck a la science fiction horror
story. The point is that the very fact that the data is
intended for computer processing will change that data; the
manner in which it is collected, the manner in which it can
be used, the manner in which it can interact with other

We have already seen this in the privacy issue; a data
bank of personal information may have many uses other
than the one for which it was explicitly designed. Other
problems haunt the future. The computer credit card
cashless society is almost upon us. It will be convenient.

But it could also mean that a person cannot buy so much as
a piece of bubble gum without that fact, and time and place
of purchase, appearing in some data bank. Where were you
at 7:23 p.m. the night of August 18, 1984? Hmmm, you
were buying a copy of Freedom's Edge. Flag that person as
a possible subversive!

Wessel gives many more examples, some less obvious,
and raises many more questions, but they all boil down to
one thing. When our society one massive data
processing system, will we be able to hold on to our
individuality and our freedom? What if l do not want a
computer credit card? Will I have a choice?

John Lees
Rolla, MO


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Robert M.

Pirsig. 406 PP- $2.25. Bantam Books, New York. l974
(Paperback). Hardcover edition published by William
Morrow & Co., Inc., New York. 1974. $7.95.

How, you might wonder, did a review of a book with a
title like this get into Creative Computing? The reason is
that this book has as much to say about computers as it
does about either Zen Buddhism or motorcycle maintenance.

This is a novel, but is has more philosophical content
than character development or plot. What it is primarily
about is the relationship between people and machines. The
main machine in the book is a motorcycle, but it could just
as well be a computer. It is pretty obvious from reading the
book that both Pirsig and his hero have dealt with
computers, mainly from the technical writing end.

According to the author's view, there are two basic ways
that humans understand their world and their machines.

The "classical" way looks for the basic underlying forms
while the "romantic" way looks mainly at the immediate
appearances. Riding motorcycles is basically romantic and
maintaining them is mainly classical. The romantic mode is
"primarily inspirational, imaginative, creative. Intuitive
feelings rather than facts predominate". The classical mode
"proceeds by reason and by laws".

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