9.511 Java

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Sat, 3 Feb 1996 09:28:07 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 511.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: John Slatin <jslatin@mail.utexas.edu> (37)
Subject: Re: 9.507 Java and society

[2] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu> (16)
Subject: it's not in the java

Date: Thu, 1 Feb 1996 08:59:13 -0600
From: John Slatin <jslatin@mail.utexas.edu>
Subject: Re: 9.507 Java and society

I agree with Willard's contention that the design of networking structures
reflects, or rather replicates, the designers' sense of social design (or
lack thereof); and I would go farther and suggest that the design of
networking structures may also give rise to different social structures that
weren't present before the introduction of the network. That would be the
argument of, for example, Shoshana Zuboff in _In the Age of the Smart
Machine: The Future of Work and Power_ (NY: Basic Books, 1988), and of Lee
Sproull and Sara Kiesler in _Connections: New Ways of Working in the
Networked Organization_ (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991). The existence of this
list, and of the many others that have sprung up over the last few years, is
evidence that this argument holds for the academy as well; witness also the
emergence of new departments (molecular biology, for example) and new intra-
and extra-departmental units such as my own Computer Writing and Research
Lab, Toronto's own Centre for Computing in the Humanities, Virginia's
Institute for Advance Technology in the Humanities, and inter-campus
ventures like the Center for Electronic Text in the Humanities;
collaborative projects like the Kentucky/Western Michigan/British Library
Electronic Beowulf-- or for that matter TEI.

I am far more worried about the types of control being attempted by the
so-called Communications Decency Act in the US House of Representatives, or
the wholesale capitulation to large scale market forces represented by the
Telecom bill now up for a vote, than I am by the emergence of Java. The
technologies of social control are well advanced, and haven't waited for
Java-- there are corporations that have been counting keystrokes for years,
to say nothing of the new Illinois legislation that allows companies to
monitor *all* conversations that take place on corporate grounds. Sure, Java
may give some enterprising enterprises a means to control things they can't
now control; but it will also give other enterprising enterprises means to
resist domination by giants like Microsoft, etc. Moreoever, Java's security
features mean that Java applets can't speak directly to the file system on
the client machine-- the applet runs inside a "virtual machine" constituted
by the browser itself.

Professor John M. Slatin
Director, Computer Writing & Research Lab
Div. of Rhetoric and Composition and Dept. of English
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX 78712
jslatin@mail.utexas.edu http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu

Date: Fri, 2 Feb 1996 07:26:54 -0500
From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu>
Subject: it's not in the java

I certainly was not intending to attack Java as a technology. It appears to
me to have great promise. What bothered and fascinated me was a particular
way in which I had seen Java presented -- as a tool for social control. As
these new tools come into being, or at least into circulation, someone has
to wonder about how they are to be used, and perhaps even to worry about
some applications. All things, I suppose, can be used or abused. Is it true,
however, that computing systems are sufficiently complex that we can detect
in them assumptions about what kind of creatures we are, how we should live,
and so forth? Works of art communicate so much, I suppose, because so much
is encoded into them. Has computer software reached the state at which we
can read detailed traces of humanity in it? I have often been tempted to
write an essay entitled "The theology of wordprocessing", somewhat along the
lines of Umberto Eco's essay on the theology of computing platforms, taking
into account the religion of the designers....