9.501 computing & social models

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Mon, 29 Jan 1996 18:56:51 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 501.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu> (24)
Subject: what social model?

Many here will know about Java, the programming language that offers
extension of interactive networking to transmission of application programs.
As presented, Java would allow, for example, the manufacturer to provide
access to a wordprocessing program that would reside on a commercial server
but be sent on demand to a networked machine of whatever kind for a single
session and charged for per use. This would mean that the manufacturer's
distribution costs would all but vanish, and I would guess, software piracy
also. At the extreme end of the scheme, users would run Java workstations
incapable of any other kind of computing. Institutions could then determine
exactly what software its members used.

The platform-independence of the Java scheme is obviously attractive, e.g.
for computer-assisted teaching and learning. No question. Less clearly
beneficial is the potential for central control. It would seem at least
arguable that the independent computer has been perceived as a serious
threat by some people, that the LAN offered one kind of comfort, but that
the Java workstation offers much more. What I wish to raise here is the
fascinating correlation between computers and the society of which they are
a part. Is it fair to say that the design of a computing system mirrors a
social model, and perhaps even more a particular conception of humanity? If
this is so, then what we as computing humanists do, our role as critic, is
arguably very important.