The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

Page 296 << PREVIOUS >> NEXT Jump to page:
Go to contents Go to thumbnails

The Eco-Spasm Report (review, by Alvin Toffler)
Computers in Society: The Wheres, Whys, and Hows of Computer Use (review, by Donald D. Spencer)
Principles of Systems (review, by Jay W. Forrester)
World Dynamics (review, by Jay W. Forrester, 1971)

graphic of page

The main problem, as Pirsig sees it, is that these two modes of thought don't
get along together.  To the romantic, the classical mode seems "dull, awkward
and ugly" and to the classical person, the romantic seems "frivolous,
irrational, erratic, and untrustworthy, … shallow".

The big trouble arises because people tend "to think and feel exclusively in one
mode or the other" and in doing so tend to misunderstand, not only each other,
but one half of the world. If, suggests Pirsig, we could only go back and put
both of these modes together, as they were before Plato and Aristotle broke them
assunder to make Western Thinking and Western Civilization possible, we might be
happier.

This book doesn't have much of a story line.  A man and his son ride across the
Western part of the U. S. on a motorcycle. The man has had a mental crack-up
followed by electroshock therapy. Now he has trouble remembering his past, some
of which he encounters along the way. That's about it at this level. But this is
a book of ideas and, at this level, the three main characters are three basic
ways of thinking about machines.  In addition to the classical and romantic
modes, there is the mode that looks, not just at the form and not just at the
immediate appearance of things, but at something that Pirsig calls
(misleadingly, I think) Quality.  "The Quality he was talking about" writes
Pirsig, "wasn't classic Quality or romantic Quality.  It was beyond both of
them".  Frankly, it was beyond me too, but that probably is because I am hung up
at the level of the classical-romantic dichotomy and can't get beyond it.

The second half of the book has this Quality as its major intellectual character
and maybe this is why l found it so much less enjoyable than the first half. 
But Pirsig has more sensible things to say about the relationships between
people and machines in the first half than a lot of books say in both halves.
Don't let that title throw you.

Peter Kugel

Chestnut Hill, MA.

* * *

The Eco-Spasm Report.  By Alvin Toffler.   $1.50 paper.  Bantam Books, New York.


Despite the slightly erotic overtones of the title, our old friend of Future
Shock fame is interested in economics rather than sex this time around.
Toffler's book was written on his own authority at white heat in order to alert
the reading public of the dire possibilities of the future.  As he puts it in
his wonderfully cliche-ridden style, "our world could end not with a bang or
whimper but with an eco-spasm."

The eco-spasm evidently signifies the end of industrial society as we have known
it, with a disintegration of our present economic organization regardless if it
be capitalist or communist. Toffler visualizes our present recession and
inflation as the warning symptoms of the emergence of a new post-industrial
society evolving painfully into a super-industrial world which will still be
technological but no longer industrial in its foundations.  With the banking
system falling apart and multinational corporations controlling ever increasing
segments of the world economy, the specter of energy shortage arises to generate
feelings of despair over the future.  And indeed the situation is fraught with
danger, but seer Toffler has the answers.

If the nations of the world will cooperate in creating transnational controls
over global corporations and in acting to regulate energy shortages, a start
toward a tolerable future can be made.  Employment and economic policy making
must take into account all facets of social change as well as the global effects
of their decisions.  But above all, Toffler stresses the need to convert
participatory democracy into a reality in order to finally allow the peoples of
the planet a meaningful voice in their destinies.

Toffler's book provides glib and often superficial answers to momentous
questions, but if it sets people to thinking it may be a worthwhile contribution
after all.

Norman Lederer

New York, NY

* * *

Computers In Society: The Wheres, Whys and Hows of Computer Use. Donald D.
Spencer. 180pp. Hayden Book Company Incorporated, Rochelle Park, New Jersey.

Mr. Spencer, President of the Abacus Computer Corporation, presents a paperback
describing basically what computers are, how and why they are being used, and
what the future might bring.  It is a non-technical treatment for the beginning
student and layman of the applications of computers in a wide range of areas.
None of the applications are in depth (but that is not the author's intent).

The main benefit to the reader is a description of what the computer does and
can do in such areas as the Arts, Medicine, Law Enforcement, Business,
Engineering, and Education; what emerges is an appreciation for the impact of
computers on society.  The writing style is very readable - certainly
non-technical; there is a conscious avoidance of jargon that plagues many areas
(and especially alienates people to the computer profession).  The illustrations
are good.  The plentiful cartoons are both amusing and pertinent to the text.

The book makes a point of a common fallacy of the media of blaming computers,
rather than computer users, for "sensational" errors.  Educating readers in this
regard alone is a valuable contribution.

Appropriate for high school students, the book should be available to guidance
counselors.   Also as suggested reference material for beginning data processing
students and as reading for computer appreciation courses.  For these audiences,
or for a layman seeking an overview, the book is highly recommended.

James A. Higgins

Binghamton, N. Y.

* * *

Principles of Systems.  Jay W. Forrester.  360 pp. $10.00 (paperback).
Wright-Allen Press, Cambridge,  Mass.

World Dynamics.  Jay W. Forrester.  142 pp. $12.00. Wright-Allen Press,
Cambridge, Mass. 1971.

It is the year 12,068 of the Galactic Era.

"… you will learn to apply psychohistory to all problems as a matter of
course. - Observe."   Seldon removed his calculator pad from the pouch at his
belt. … Red symbols glowed out from the gray ….  "Put it into words.  Forget
the symbolism for a moment."  "The Empire will vanish and all its good with it.
Its accumulated knowledge will decay and the order it has imposed will vanish. 
Instellar wars will be endless; interstellar trade will decay; population will
decline; worlds will lose touch with the main body of the Galaxy."  … "Enough.
 And what of the numerical probability of total destruction within five
centuries?"  … "About 85%" … "Not bad," said Seldon …,"but not good. The
actual figure is 92.5%"1

In 2024 AD the earth's population was just over seven billion and the quality of
life was better than a hundred years previously.  This was achieved through
efforts in the midseventies to reduce the rate of pollution and the rate of
natural resource usage while increasing both the rate of capital generation and
the rate of food production. Unfortunately a catastrophe of unparalleled
proportions occurred during the next thirty years.  The population was
decimated.  By 2060 only a little over one billion people were still alive.

The first account is science fiction from Asimov's "Foundation".  The second is
a computer-generated prediction found in Forrester's "World Dynamics". 
Psychohistory is a figment of Asimov's imagination, but what of World Dynamics? 
Is it a powerful new tool to understanding or is it also science fiction?  

The need for better tools to understand social, economic, business, and
political systems has been evident for some time. When a law is passed, its
actual effects are often quite different from the intended effects.   After the
initial novelty wears off, innovative programs in education are frequently found
to be worse than the shortcomings they were designed to eliminate.  Many public
housing projects have deteriorated becoming more intolerable than

Page 296 << PREVIOUS >> NEXT Jump to page:
Go to contents Go to thumbnails