Barry Sanders on the immutable rules in computers

from: A is for Ox (1994)

Flipping on the personal computer, the young person...enters into an electronic world, one in which the rules are immutable and preestablished. Revising and editing are simplified with a PC, but what the student is doing is not writing in the truly literate sense. With or without features like Spell-Check and Grammar-Check, it would be impossible to compose The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on a word processor.

But even if one could, I am concerned here with something more insidious than "lazy" habits that the PC induces in its users. I want to call attention to the way the screen gets under the skin of the operator. A young person more than senses, he or she comes to know that authority, real knowledge, and skill, reside in the machine, dictated by an anonymous disembodied programmer. The rules have been irrefutably set by that anonymous expert, someone the student has never met, someone who resides far away in that mythical land, that fairy world of big bucks and big dreams, Silicon Valley. The computer program shapes reality like the invisible hand of God.

Authority resides in the book as well. But it is authority, not technology ukase. In a book, an author - a person - can be imagined: a live human being with a face and a history. We can look at photographs of that person, read biographies. On the page, we watch that author's mind in action, with all its starts and stops, the side trips and tentative conclusions. The reader enters into that meandering flow of ideas, not into a summary of rules.

A review of Sanders's book by Alan Filreis.


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Last modified: Tuesday, 04-Mar-1997 23:26:11 EST