11.0338 gleanings

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Fri, 17 Oct 1997 07:32:47 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 338.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Fri, 17 Oct 1997 07:32:43 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: gleanings

>From the Guardian for 16 October.

Front page news:

(1) Dan Glaister, "Laureate goes off message with throwaway lines". It seems
that our Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, asked to write a poem in defense of
national libraries, moved from a stirring defense of the book -- detailing
crimes against literature, such as the various book-burnings -- to an attack
on the new technology. The powers-that-be, having made a rather large
political and financial investment in that technology, were not amused. The
poet rewrote. Apparently the discarded lines cannot be found.


(2) "Restocking the digital shelves: In future public libraries will come to
us, not we to them", on the New Library report (commissioned by the last
government), just published this week. Noting that "as a means of
discovering instant knowledge the Internet has no peer", the editor
questions "whether the L. 750 million proposed by yesterday's report to put
libraries on-line is the most cost-effective way of reducing the emerging
gap between the info-rich and the info-poor: or whether it would be better
spent helping to give poorer people on-line access in their homes." The
answer is both, please, but clearly the government hasn't the money, so the
private sector needs to be tapped. The libraries in the U.K. are in "sad
decline". But "The 1.3 million people who visit libraries every day -- far
more than go to football [soccer] matches or the cinema -- aren't so gung-ho
about new technology as enthusiasts presume. They tell market researchers
that what they really want is old-fashioned things like more books, longer
opening hours, particularly at weekends, and more sociable facilities. It is
said that only two libraries in the country now open more than 60 hours a
week. That is a chronic underuse of one of the country's most priceless

To the great credit of the author, he or she concludes that "The real
problem facing the new age is to motivate the large underclass of youngsters
who are not interested enough to fulfill their own potential. Not even free
Internet access at home let alone at public libraries will prove an easy
solution to this problem. The first task of the information society is to
find out more facts about itself."

Online section:

(3) Steve Shipside, "The write stuff", about the large impact e-mail is
having on businesses, who find it difficult to keep up with the flood of
e-mail from customers. Interestingly, the author notes that as the rate at
which e-mail users increase begins to level off, as it apparently has, the
volume of data transmitted by this means is growing exponentially. "E-mail
has become multimedia", according to Eric Arum, editor of Electronic Mail
and Messaging, "with the exchange of digital images, attached files like
spreadsheets and presentations, not to mention MIME-encoded messages... and
HTML Web pages being passed on." People are recording images on camcorders
and shipping these around by e-mail. So-called "intelligent agents" such as
Guideware <http://www.guideware.com/> cannot cope. "One thing the analysts
agree on is that there is no easy answer. In the meantime, the smart advice
is to invest in hard drive manufacturers."

(4) Duncan Campbell, "Europe spikes spooks' e-mail evesdrop bid", on the
blow to the intelligence community (if it can be called that) by an EC
report urging the adoption of effective encryption standards. See
<http://www.ispo.cec.be/eif/policy/97503.html>. "Law-abiding citizens need
to protect themselves against attacks"!

(5) Jim McClellan, "Games we used to play", about nostalgia for a good old
days of gameplaying before graphics became more important than the game itself.

(6) Bill O'Neill, "Three weeks in the life of the shy (but caring) Mr
Gates". Official protocol "for the state visit to Cambridge of his eminence
Bill Gates of Microsoft" shows, one editor of the Guardian commented,
"contempt for the press". The protocol imposed "a universal ban" on
reporters. "Last week, in OnLine, [Esther] Dyson wrote that Microsoft 'is so
pervasive that it can't pick and chose its markets the way a smaller company
can; its health depends on the health of the entire computer/Internet
marketplace.'" It is comparable, Dyson notes, to a government.

Much material here for reflection, particularly I would think on the degree
to which computing has "captured" the imagination and passions of the ruling
elites and their penumbra of employees. I put the crucial word in quotation
marks in order to slow down an immediate dive into the illusion of
autonomous power. Allow me to suggest that the really interesting question
here takes us back to the closing line of the Guardian editorial, "The first
task of the information society is to find out more facts about itself." I
would, however, substitute for the word "facts" something a great deal more


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk

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