October 1996

Root Page of Article: Coming Out of the Closedt World, by John Horberg


Although I am far from knowledgeable enough to give credit to the many areas of study that Edwards touches on, I do know enough to see that The Closed World should be of interest to readers from many disciplines. Edwards really creates an interesting context against which to examine the development of computing, even if his is not the single correct vantage point from which to look.

In fact, Edwards provides a nice supplement to other critics of technology like Langdon Winner and Neil Postman. Both Winner and Postman seem to grant technology a certain autonomy over humans -- a certain amount of "once you unleash a technology, it's going to do whatever its nature allows it to do." Certainly, there is plenty of truth to that, but Edwards offers a rich, complicating view -- a cybernetic view in which human ideology, cultural and political forces determine what sort of computers we build, with those computers, in turn, affecting what sort of ideologies evolve within those cultural and political realms.

Edwards also takes up issues and language familiar to readers of both Sherry Turkle and Donna Haraway. Edwards' discussion of computers as "second selves" and "objects to think with" offers a nice complement to Turkle, whose work figures prominently in The Closed World. And much of Edwards' insight on cyborgs and "cyborg subjectivity" he credits to Haraway (who apparently chaired his PhD dissertation). In fact, Edward's text is filled with references to erasing boundaries, and leaky or unstable borders, say, between humans and machines -- straight out of Haraway's work.

Finally, Edwards provides extensive documentation of America1s efforts to conduct a sanitary, technologically controlled war in Vietnam through the use of centralized electronic "command and control" networks. The failure of the American technocracts to control the movements of Viet Cong guerrilla forces leads directly to Cynthia and Richard Selfe's discussions of discursive spaces opened up by autocratic and panoptic technologies whether in the classroom or in society. ^

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