Voice mail. E-mail. Bar codes. Desktops. Laptops. Networks. The Web. In this exciting book, Gene Rochlin takes a closer look at how these familiar and pervasive productions of computerization have become embedded in all our lives, forcing us to narrow the scope of our choices, our modes of control, and our experiences with the real world. Drawing on fascinating narratives from fields that range from military command, air traffic control, and international fund transfers to library cataloging and supermarket checkouts, Rochlin shows that we are rapidly making irreversible and at times harmful changes in our business, social, and personal lives to comply with the formalities and restrictions of information systems.The threat is not the direct one once framed by the idea of insane robots or runaway mainframes usurping human functions for their own purposes, but the gradual loss of control over hardware, software, and function through networks of interconnection and dependence. What Rochlin calls the computer trap has four parts: the lure, the snare, the costs, and the long-term consequences.
HAL the computer may not really be scheming to do us all in, but, according to University of California energy and resources professor Rochlin, computerization is leading us into pretty dire straits. In financial markets, warp-speed automated trading creates opportunities for fraud and moves us further away from a stable investment climate. In the office, computers promise efficiency, but bring fragmented knowledge and reduced autonomy to workers. There's worse news. Pilots in the "glass cockpits" of modern airplanes have too much data to interpret, and nuclear power plant operators are less likely to have an intuitive feel for things going wrong "on the floor." Most sobering of all is the discussion of automation and the military. In a provocative analysis of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Rochlin argues that the success of American smart weapons was due to atypical circumstances�enormous preparation and inflow of resources, clear weather and lack of resistance by Iraq. In future campaigns, the "fog of war" might make such precise operations impossible. At times, Rochlin's broad-brush coverage leaves one hungry for detail, and his professorial style may even detract from the urgency of his message. As for solutions to our increasing dilemma, readers are left on their own. Gloomily, Rochlin just asserts that without paying "substantial costs," "there is no way that we can pull the plug." (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Princeton University Press
July 26, 1998
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