#3588 Created 04/14/2014 Updated 12/29/2015
Langdon Winner: the whale and the Reactor
on the computer revolution...
They employ the metaphor of revolution for one purpose only--to suggest a drastic upheaval, one that people ought to welcome as good news. It never occurs to them to investigate the idea or its meaning any further.
One might support, for example, that a revolution of this type would involve a significant shift in the locus of power; afer all, that is exactly what one expects in revolutions of a political kind.
One might also ask whether or not this revolution will be strongly committeed, as regolutins often are, to a particular set of social ideasl. If so, what are the ideals that matter? Where can we seen them argued?
To mention revolution also brings to mind the relationships of different social classes. Will the computer revolution bring about the victory of one class over another?
in the busy world of computer science, computer engineering and computer marketing such questions seldom come up. Those actively engaged in promoting the transformation--hardware and software engineers, managers of microelectronics firms, computer salesmen, and the like--are busy pursuing their own ends: profits, market share, handsome salaries, the intrinsic joy of invention, the intellectual rewards of programming, and the pleasures of owning and using powerful machines. But the sheer dynamism of technical and economic activity in the computer industry evidently leaves its members little time to ponder the historical significance of their own activity.... The process has its own inertia.
(utopian promise of computers)
Hence, one looks in vain to the movers and shakers in computer fields for the qualities of social and political insight that characterized revolutionaries of the past. Too busy. Cromwell, Jefferson, Robespierre, Lenin and Mao were able to reflect upon the world historical events in which they played a role. Public pronouncements by the likes of Robert Noyce, Marvin Minsky, Edward Feigenbaum, and Steve, Jobs show no similar wisdom about the transformation they so actively help to create. By and large the computer revolution is conspicuously silent about its own ends. 102
-- But, in fact, no well-developed comparisons of that kind are to bound in the writings on the computer revolution. A consistently ahistorical viewpoint prevails. What one often finds emphasized, however, is a vision of drastically altered social and political conditions, a future upheld as both desirable and, in all likelihood, inevitable. Politics, in other words, is not a secondary concern for many computer enthusiasts; it is a crucial, albeit thoughtless, part of their message. ...
102 (grand expectations..the standard account) Widespread access to computers will produce a society more democratic, egalitarian, and richly diverse than any previously known. Because knowledge is power," because electronic information will spread knowledge into ever corner of world society, political influence will be much more widely shared. 102-103
With the personal compuer serving as the great equalizer, rule by centralized authority and social class dominance will gradually fade away. The marvelous promise of a "global village" will be fulfilled ina worldwide burst of human craetivity.
(a sampling from recent wirint on info society)
The world is entering a new period The wealth of nations..will come in the future to depend upon information, knowledge, and intelligence. (see note 9)
The electronic revolution will not do away with work, but it does hold out some promises: most boring jobs can be done by machines; lengthy commuting can be avoided; we can have enough leisure to folow interesting pursuits outside our work; environmental destruction can be avoided; the opportunities for personal creativity will be unlimited. 103
Taken as a whole, beliefs of this kind constitute what I would call mythinformation: the almost religious conviction that a widespread adoption of computers and communications systems along with easy access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for human living. 105
What were once industrial societies are being transformed into service economies. ... 106
The computer romantics are also correct in noting that computerization alters relationships of social power and control, although they misrepresent the direction this development is likely to take. those who stand to benefit most obviously are large transnational business corporations. 106-107
The political arguments of computer romantics draw upon a number of key assumptions: (1) people are bereft of information; (2) information is knowledge; (3) knowledge is power; and (4) increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power.
... it mistakes sheer supply of information with an education ability to gain knowledge and act effectively base on that knowledge. 107=108
But surely there is no automatic, positive link between knowledge and power, especially if that means power in a social or political sense. At times, knowledge brings merely an enlightened impotence or paralysis. 109
Of all the computer enthusiasts' political ideas, there is none more poignant that the faith that eh computer is destined to become a potent equalizer in modern society. 112