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Linux Journal: "High Tech Heretic" & "In the Beginning was the Command Line" [Book Reviews]

Jun 25, 2000, 13:28 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by James Paul Holloway)

"Those with high-tech products to sell, no matter if their vision is cynical or genuine, are able to exercise a tremendous influence over our society. They have convinced us that broken software is to be expected, and a fix will be out soon; that a new computer every few years is necessary; and that children need to use computers practically from infancy. And their influence is not limited to consumer-users. Because of the conventional wisdom that ``high-tech'' is responsible for the current economic boom, they also have a strong influence on political, educational and legal figures, for example, selling the notion that copyright of software is a special legal form requiring special criminal provisions not previously needed, or pushing for the adoption of multimedia-based educational tools of uncertain educational value."

"Two recent examples of computer contrarian books are High Tech Heretic by Clifford Stoll and In the Beginning was the Command Line by Neal Stephenson. These are notable because they were both written by experienced authors who love and are experienced in computing, and whose previous successes in techno-book writing has made them somewhat famous among members of the hacker community. Both authors set out to challenge dominant ideas in our current culture of computing, using dramatic images and emotional rhetoric rather than through a data-driven discussion."

"Both High Tech Heretic by Clifford Stoll and In the Beginning was the Command Line by Neal Stephenson are interesting and fun to read. On the whole, Stoll seems to have a better grasp of his own goal in writing his book, while Stephenson simply seems determined to impress us with his thoughts. Neither of these books is a carefully argued essay--two more-honed examples might be The Trouble with Computers by Thomas K. Landauer and Failure to Connect by Jane Healy--but High Tech Heretic and In the Beginning... are more likely to be widely read and discussed. I hope these will not be the last books to question the directions of mainstream computing. Creative people will surely propose revolutionary ideas on reorganizing our modes of education and work, and some of these ideas will require excellent computer technology to support them. The real challenge is preventing the support technology itself from becoming the goal."

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