[Humanist] 27.602 nuts about computers?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Dec 8 11:36:45 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 602.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 08 Dec 2013 10:29:10 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: nuts about computers?

I would greatly appreciate recommendations of books (and articles) 
published up to the early 1990s that attack the computer as a pernicious 
influence and cause of social ills or promote it with equal, unreasoning 
vigour. I want to have a reliable sense of how much the onset of 
computing in those Cold War years rocked our social and intellectual 
boat emotionally.

Two examples of the unreasoning negative come to mind: Harvey Matusow's 
curious, only half humorous collection of stories, The Beast of 
Business: A Record of Computer Atrocities (1968), and Geoff Simons' 
Silicon Shock: The Menace of the Computer Invasion (1985), which begins 
with four anecdotes, two of nausea at the sight of a computer, two of 
men (one of them a policeman) shooting theirs. I am not so much looking 
for milder, reasoned, reassuring, even lighthearted arguments designed 
to counteract panic and fear, such as found in John Short's The 
Sachertorte Algorithm and Other Antidotes to Computer Anxiety (1958) or 
in Ben Ross Schneider's Travels in Computerland, or Incompatibilities and 
Interfaces (1974), though if you know of others in this genre please 
tell me.

Nor am I so keen on the more serious kind against computing, esp against 
AI, such as Mortimer Taube's Computers and Common Sense: The Myth of the 
Thinking Machine (1961), whose attack is reflected in the many stories 
told by Pamela McCorduck in her wonderful book Machines Who Think: A 
Personal Inquiry into the History and Prospects of Artificial 
Intelligence (1979, rev edn 2004).

On the positive side I am very keen on proclamations of revolutionary 
impact, such as firebrand scholar Stephen Parrish's at the first conference 
dedicated to our field, at which he allied himself with the scientists in C. P. 
Snow's 1959 Rede Lecture, or such as Edmund C. Berkeley's Giant Brains, 
or Machines that Think (1949) or his The Computer Revolution (1962).

In brief, I am interested in the excited, aggressive, fear-struck or 
simply over-the-top reactions to that which we now take for granted as 
a kind of appliance and calmly theorize. I think our sometimes nutty 
predecessors saw something important, though mostly misinterpreted it. 
Their reactions, I am wanting to argue, need to be seen in context, e.g. of the 
cultural scene described by the great anthropologist Margaret Mead in 
Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap (1972).

Many thanks.

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Research Group in Digital
Humanities, University of Western Sydney

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