The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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Some Thoughts (explosion of computers as a hobby, computers as an inheritantly incomprehensible device)
by John R. Lees, Jr.

graphic of page

Some Thoughts 

John R. Lees, Jr. 
Associate Editor Creative Computing 

I have been thinking quite a lot lately about People's Computer Company and
Creative Computing, and what the existence of such publications means; about the
explosion in computer, minicomputers, microprocessors and the "hobby" computer
thing, and what such an explosion means; and about community communications and
free schools and deschooling society and social change and the certain knowledge
that world-wide disaster is imminent, and I am wondering if anyone has the
faintest idea as to what is going on.

We appear to be rushing head-on in this country (only in this country?) into
something which I have started thinking of as the distributed-computer society.
Two computers in every garage … and in every washing machine, oven, radio,
watch, telephone, doorbell, in short, a computer as an integral part of every
technological device. The $10 microprocessor is here and getting cheaper every
day. Already everything is electronic, soon, everything will have a
microprocessor snuggled somewhere within it. This worries me. 

To help you see why it worries me, let me rephrase a sentence from the above
paragraph: Already our tools are all electronic, soon, our tools will all have
microprocessors as integral parts. This is an important point because a
microprocessor is an inherently incomprehensible device; a device which cannot
be understood out of the context of an extremely complicated, elite technology.
How does a microprocessor work? No, not what it does, but how it actually does
it? Is that not really important? We are beginning to build things using tools
which we do not really understand. Do we understand what we build with those

This article also appeared in People's Computer Company (P. O. Box 310, Menlo
Park, CA 94025) Mar / Apr 1976. 

We are touting the computer as the educational device to end all educational
devices, but we frequently stress the point, "Don't worry about how it works,
that isn't important," often adding, "I don't really understand it myself." I
can't help but think of what Ivan Illich says in Deschooling Society about the
radio, how mass production techniques changed it from educational sources of
parts and electronics knowledge into a disposable throwaway. With computer it's
worse; in many cases we are prohibited from understanding the software because
it is critical or proprietary of necessary to "system security" or simply
written in a half-assed way which makes it impossible to figure out. 

Some of us are thinking of basing various social revolutions around the
"inexpensive" computer. Try comparing the price of an Altair against the world
median income! And how secure is nay revolution based on a black box, the
production, the understanding, of which is not in the hands of the
revolutionaries? (See any basement diffusion furnaces lately? Ion-Implantation
in the bathroom?) Whose revolution is it, anyway? The people? Or the fraction of
a fraction of a percent of the population who at lease partially understands the
technology involved? Think of the eliteness of even the readership of People's
Computer Company and Creative Computing! Are we serious, or are we just playing
with our fascinating new toy?

I'll assume that we think we are serious because computers are transforming
world technology. It's hard to comprehend how omnipresent the influence of the
computer has become. Environmental and social impact statements are not required
on new technologies that bloom overnight and captivate all thinking in the wink
of an eye. And that's the way it happened!

I entered college in 1971 and the hottest thing going was the Heathkit
electronic calculator that would do four functions for only $130.00. It was
fantastic! By the time

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