The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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Information Anyone? (Information is power, dreaming of speaking in JCL, job control language, NEWSPEAK, communicating with a computer)
by Bill Griffith

graphic of page

INFORMATION ANYONE?

by Bill Griffith
Boston College

You are nobody unless you have your share of information. Money is not power,
knowledge is not power.
-	Information is power.

With the CIA collecting information on private citizens (Why don't they stick to
overthrowing foreign governments?), commercial credit companies recording the
contents of your trashcans and your seven year old using words like "software"
and "hardware" and "PL/l", is it any wonder you wonder? "It all looks too big
and complicated.", you say. "What can I do about it anyway, I'm not an expert?"
Well, it can get pretty scary if you think about the ramifications of all this
in our computer-infested society. It's all very serious. But it seems to be
serious in a way that caused people to do nothing about it. They can't even
laugh about it. Now scary is O.K. if you use the fear towards productive defense
and laughter is O.K. if it puts things into a workable perspective.

I work in a computing center and some times it gets pretty hectic. One night,
after a particularly grueling day, I passed out at about 7 P.M. and l dreamt
that I couldn't speak unless I talked in JCL. Now, JCL, for those of you who
have the fortune not to know, is short for Job Control Language, which is kind
of a pseudo-language used to get your work through IBM's larger computers. We've
all had nightmares - tigers chasing you, falling down endless holes – the
usual nightly ramblings of our collective unconscious. This one however, freaked
me out a little more than the time I was about to be crushed to death for
playing with a OUIJA board at the blessing of the fleet in Gloucester. No one
could understand me except systems programmers and the computers themselves. I
couldn't order dinner, I was banned from the singles bars (my wife was happy
about that - serves me right), and l was bitten by our pet gerbil. Fortunately,
l woke up before l starved to death or whatever. The ramifications of this
nocturnal psychic spasm began to revolve in my head and I was led to an appendix
in 1984 which discussed the language of the future, NEWSPEAK.

The purpose of NEWSPEAK was not on/y to provide a medium of expression for the
world view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all
other modes of thought impossible.

It takes a very special turn of mind to be able to communicate with a computer.
You have to use a language which is unambiguous and any "sentence" you construct
will, at least in the context, be univalent-i.e.-it means one thing and only one
thing. Now I admit it can be a real kick (and useful) for linguistic puzzle
maniacs both to construct and to try and break such languages. However, if you
continue to think in these strictured terms, it is rather

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