Masthead CMC Magazine / February 1, 1996
 Hopes and Horrors, by Rob Kling

Stories About Computerization

Many key questions that people raise about computerization--in their households, communities, workplaces, and so on--refer to possible future events. For example, university librarians may wonder how they should create a computerized "virtual reference desk" for their clients and shift their spending away from paper-based materials. Managers in a software company may wonder how they can best supervise their staffs and foster teamwork if their team members all work in their separate homes in a large urban area. A young man and woman may wonder whether they can send each other romantic letters via electronic mail and insure the privacy of their communications. In industrialized societies, millions of professionals and computer specialists ask questions like these very day.

Good answers to questions like these are not always obvious. And thinking through workable answers (and social practices based upon them) can involve a complex web of assumptions about people's rights, the responsibilities of professional to their clients, how people behave, the capabilities of specific technologies, and the nature of ethical behavior. These answers are usually based on a story, however incomplete, about "the future." The time scale of future behavior may be two months away or 10 years away. Most of the key questions about computerization in society focus on future events.

This article focuses on the -- unstated but critical social assumptions underlying stories about computerization and changes in social life.

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