October 1996

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

Las Vegas

The question -- How to make clear the computer's effects on us, and our effects on growing computer technology? -- bothers me immensely. Indeed, this past July, my incessant worry over computers drove me to seek refuge in Las Vegas, Nevada at the luxurious Sahara Hotel and Casino.

Between bouts of $0.75 strawberry margaritas, pina coladas, and daiquiris ($1.00 at the Cashbar when the lounge act comes on, but you can always walk across the aisle and get them for $0.75), throwing paper airplanes out the window of Room #1265 and other ^digressions too shameful to mention here, I spend many hours reading The Closed World at the Sahara's swimming pool.

I did a lot of thinking about computers, there by the pool. Mostly worrying. I worried about how the computers we build change the world we live in; I worried how those computers and the bright new computerized world change us -- who we are and how we think; and I worried a lot about why we want the sort of computers we have been designing and building for the last 50 years.

The problem is that it is darn hard to argue convincingly that computers --these technologically neutral, convenient, necessary-for-everyday-life devices --really do affect us. The skeptic's counter-claim in the world of useful computing devices, from hand-held calculators to ATM banking machines to word processors, seems exceptionally powerful:

"Computers do not determine who I am, how I think, or what I do. The computers in my everyday life are beneath the surface; they are simply tools that help me do the sort of things I would want to do anyway."
Thank goodness for free drinks while playing nickel slot machines. ^

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