The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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Some Thoughts (basing our everyday world on technologies which are not intuitively understandable)

graphic of page

I graduated the Altair was in production and the 8080 had 78 instructions for
$130.00. That is starkly unbelievable! Except that it happened and it's still
happening. l entered college from one culture and graduated into
I'll have my master's degree in one year and what will it be like then? Star
Trek on every TV in the nation, probably. Is that the idea?


The idea is for some people to make a lot of money and expand their industry and
keep the GNP growing. That is the gut force behind the computer explosion, that
and the fact that the computer is the advertiser's dream come true. "Here is our
universal do-all. Take a close look at it, We guarantee that you can think of
something to use it for! If you can't, well, sorry, it looks like your business
is obsolete." The self-expanding product; the product which grabs you by the
throat and says, "Thou shalt do it my way, or your investment is worthless. And
by the way, I'd do it a lot better with another 32K."

To return to my main point, I guess what really bothers me is that we are
beginning to base so much of our everyday world on technologies which are not
intuitively understandable. We no longer feel that it is necessary to understand
our tools. I believe that if we do not understand our tools, then we do not
control our tools, our tools control us. The people who do understand our tools
control us.

If I am the end user of a computer statistical package, but I am not a
programmer, then if someone changes the package I must change. If I am a
programmer, but don't understand hardware, then if someone changes the machine I
program for, I must change. Even if I understand all facets of the computer I
use, from software to hardware, I am still in trouble, for if someone changes
the design of an integrated circuit device such as a microprocessor or a memory
chip, there's not a damn thing I can do about it except change to suit Them.

All users of advanced technologies are subservient to the elite who understand
and control those technologies,

Even the elite represented by PCC and Creative are not very elite. How do
People's Consumer Company and Creative Consuming grab you? (Down, Dragon!,
Down!) I'm not too taken with those names, but even though I am
fairly knowledgeable about computers I realize that I am basically helpless. I
am still only a user of someone else's technology. If things continue on in the
same way they are going right now, I am not sure that I see the situation
getting any better.


Aha! The way is clear for the usual Basic Question: Must 'Things Go On This Way?
No, I'm not denouncing computers or technology or capitalism or anything else.
Perhaps there was only one way to reach this point in history, it makes little
difference, we are here. The distributed-computer society is upon us. We know
that computers are, if nothing else, great toys and we have hopes that they can
be much more.

But must computers remain black boxes? Must computer technology, itself, remain
of no educational value? Must control of the use of computers for social change
remain, ultimately, with others than those who are trying to bring about change?
Must the public forever fall farther and farther behind in understanding the
devices with which it is manipulated?

Okay, I am but an egg, and all that, and I don't have many answers, so I'm
asking: Can we have an understandable computer technology? Is the way we are
doing things now the only way to do them? Can we transform computers into tools
which most people can understand and use? Can we have computers for people? Can
we use computers to bring about useful social change? Can we reconcile personal
computers in this country with the fact that much of the world population will
starve to death by the end of this century of technological progress? Are we
really doing something useful in terms of the future of this planet, or are we
really just playing games?

Those are some pretty brutal questions, and to some degree I have been playing
the devi1's advocate, but I really want to find some answers. So now that I've
raised the points, and I'll admit that some of the things I've said could use
some expansion and clarification, let's have some discussion.

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