Computers & Their Discontents
If we measure the success of a revolution by the frequency with which the term itself is invoked, then the revolution in information technology must be the most successful in history. It is not possible to pick up a newspaper or magazine today without reading about the way our conceptions of work and leisure, and possibly all of our social relations, are undergoing a sea-change through the proliferation of new electronic media. Whether or not one feels “computer literate,” one can hardly have avoided such notions as “multimedia,” the “information superhighway,” the “Internet,” the “World Wide Web,” and “virtual reality.” To judge by the Wall Street Journal, positioning oneself to take advantage of all this is the consuming obsession of the marketplace, what with Microsoft and Time Warner and Viacom and a host of other giant and tiny companies perpetually seeming to get married, divorced, bought out, and spun off.
The interlinking of computers, communications technology, and the media has even sparked a sub-industry of its own: a shelf-load of books explaining the so-called digital revolution and arguing its pros and cons. The authors of these books can be usefully divided into three categories: technoboosters, who essentially tout the glory of the coming age; doomsayers, who take the claims of the technoboosters in deadly earnest but put the direst possible construction on them; and sober realists, most of them technicians who have put in their time in the digital trenches and know a thing or two about their subject.
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