The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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Information Anyone? (collecting information about Americans, Information is not truth)

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unlikely that you will say anything that will ultimately benefit humankind.
After a hard day at the coding pad (the blocked and lined paper programmers use
to record their musings), I once went to a cocktail party in Cambridge and I was
unable to enter into the current discussion about the 19th century symbolists
because I couldn't say anything relevant in FORTRAN. That was the day I chose to
go into management. I figured that this might save me from the shrink or at
least if I went to the shrink I could still talk to him/her. At the time I
didn't realize that programmers don't need shrinks anyway and that managers do
because they can still think about what's bothering them enough to have it
bother them.

I often ask myself what in the name of heaven ("heaven" is a legitimate variable
name in most computer languages) we are doing with these monolithic monsters.
Pretty soon we won't even be able to use words like "freedom," "liberation,"
etc., because they won't mean anything anyway. You've got to have a
counter-vocabulary to produce creative change; but the language is fast
reducing, at least in the career circles I run in. In contrast, the social
environment (at least, mine) doesn't seem able to respond at all. And these
people, I like to think, are intelligent, caring individuals but when they ask
me what I do I find myself speechless or mumbling. When you think about the so
called lack of religion in our "post-modern" world, you quickly find substitutes
abounding in the techno-scientific fields. You can tell where pseudo-religion is
because that is where mystery is. Any religion worth its salt leads to
knowledge, not mystery. So the new mystery-religion is upon us in the form of
technology and the new high priests are the systems analysts and programmers.
Every cult has its symbols and computerese is no exception. It's impossible to
fight, if you stand in awe and wonder. I find awe and wonder best reserved for
sunsets and rainbows and only a way of avoiding responsibility when it comes to
technology.  As in Newspeak, some programmers sit up nights trying to say more,
more efficiently and with less "words" and giving themselves gold stars when
they succeed in doing it. I admit to all the "wonder"ful things computers have
done -they have eased out bureaucratic pains, made our lives more

One night, after a particularly grueling day, I passed out at about 7 P.M.

and I dreamt that I couldn't speak unless I talked in JCL.


efficient and carefree, simplified government and helped catch income tax
cheaters and who am I to argue with "rationality." Anyone who stands in
opposition to "technique" certainly has a suspect mental balance. Who can stay
the tide of technological sophistication? Now that's a word - sophistication. It
means neat, cool and in the know - sexy even (we'll get to that in a later
article for you neoFreudians out there.) But one of the meanings which we
overlook is complex. Whenever a computer salesman uses the word sophisticated, I
get hives. And do we remember the sophists? They didn't say anything but how
wonderful it sounded and who would volunteer ignorance of what they were talking
about? Somehow, I don't fear any organized takeover of the language a la 1984
but I sure as hell worry about habitual lack of responsibility - we don't need
to be taken by force, why waste the effort - we'll take care of ourselves
ourselves. So, next time somebody says a word you don't get - ask them to
explain it until you understand.  You didn't get into a responsible position by
not asking "stupid" questions, so why stop now? Get out that copy of Webster's
and cherish it - hug it to your breast. It may be more important than the Bible
in the decade to come. Have you seen Fahrenheit 451?

There is another side to this technological revolution and that is information.
Even the computer is falling into the background of information. It is no longer
computer processing or data processing but information processing.  Everybody
has to have information-managers need information, congress needs information,
hospitals need information. You are nobody unless you have your share of
information. Money is not power, knowledge is not power-information is power.
Some people don't seem to want to know anything, but they sure as shootin' want
to know about everything. And if you give them a T.V. computer terminal they
will certainly use it even if they don't need it.  Now in order to fulfill this
addiction to information, we need information. I remember someone quoting J.
Edgar as saying "We have dossiers on 95% of the American public and we must
close this gap." Why do people collect information-the IRS, the CIA, the FBI,
commercial credit companies? Only to have it-I know they give other reasons but
"only to have it" is the truth. They have to supply the habits of the
"information seekers." If you are a manager and you have no MIS (Management
Information System) where is your credibility? What do you want to know-it may
not matter, you'll figure out something...later. Right now, collect that
information. Meanwhile...all the information has been collected. It reminds me
of a thought Marshall McLuhan put forth in Understanding Media-you invent T.V.
and what a marvel it is; what a wonderful communications media. Then you put the
control of the media into the hands of the networks and they don't worry so much
about all the wonderful things we could communicate but how to fill up the time
slots. Now this wouldn't be so bad if people didn't have the mistaken idea that
all we are is what somebody knows about us. I don't like to see tighter social
control via data banks but I feel that if we are only our social selves (what is
known about us) then we are in big trouble. In fact, believing it is the best
way to reinforce it. It breeds fear, lack of self-expression, secrecy and in the
age of communication we find ourselves communicating less and less. I would like
to shout from the housetops.  "INFORMATION IS NOT TRUTH." You see, when we moved
from data to information a very subtle transition took place.  Data is not just
data but reality (where did I hear that?) when it is information. It is now
in-FORMED-it has form.  Somehow, we are lead to believe that the evaluation has
already taken place when the information arrives on our desk. IT HAS NOT. What
about the content? Who cares? We should. Someone once told me (or did I think it
up all by myself?) that management information is anything that a manager reads
that was printed by a computer. Oh well! The problem is that information has a
rather unbiased tone about it when at the same time it is heavily biased. Oh for
the days of the Buddha when "all you were was the result of what you had
thought" rather than today when all you are is what somebody knows about you. So
in between your Peter Drucker and your IBM manuals (they are second in
publication only to the U.S. government-that's one for the time capsule) see if
you can't sandwich a copy of some O.Henry or some Mark Twain or the Bhagavad
Gita. It'll do ya good.

In closing, I would say that I am not a cynic-far from it, but one who wants to
take the responsibility for my small area of the universe as all should. I do it
badly sometimes and sometimes well-but I do. The computer has no intrinsic moral
bias but when it imbeds itself in a culture as it has today-it does. "Back to
nature" won't help. You'd better have a book on systems in one hand and a
philosophy book in the other or it is all over. The only way around it is
through it.


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