Computer people as emotionally backward

Steve Witham (
Mon, 31 Mar 1997 02:30:08 -0400 says-
>It seems to me that people most adept at computers have generally only the
>most superficial awareness of their (and others') emotions.

I think this is less true than most people think,
but more true than some of us would like to believe.

To the extent it's true, it's closely related to the *myth* of
computers, our culture's ideas and images of what computers are about.
Ted Nelson has written about it, and reading his _Computer Lib_ was
what switched me from being a computer insider wannabe to a computer
outsider-insider wannabe. That is, someone who loves computers and wants
to know all the coolest things going on in the field while not buying into
the industry's notions of what's going on.

The Myth, though, provides excuses for crappy, nasty hardware and software
(the Technical Reason Too Difficult To Explain).
It provides rationales for people in charge of computers to have various
sorts of power over people who just use them.
It provides ways for people who aren't computer people to look down
on computers and those nerdy computer people.
It gives the "it's too hard" excuse for non-comps not to learn.
It gives a reason non-experts have to ask experts for help.
It gives a reason for experts to look down on users ("Lusers").
It gives people a way to feel like they know something important when they
learn some detail or collection of details.

In other words, it's an existing stereotype (or complimentary pair of
stereo(hah)types), that encourages people to sort themselves into two
categories, and then gives them incentives to maintain and exaggerate
the stereotype, not just in what they believe but by taking the roles and
acting out the stereotypes. (Sometimes you play the expert in one context
and the user in another.)

Nelson pointed out that the stereotype isn't really justified by the nature
of computers themselves (which are just boxes programmable to act however
we want). Instead it seems to be a way for our culture to play out various
inner conflicts and themes, like a Rorschach (sp?) inkblot. One conflict
he mentioned was a scale:
Computer (too cold)
<----> Warm Human Being (just right)
<---> Bum, Nigger, Hippie, Psycho (too emotional)
The thing here is that in order to be at just the right point on the scale,
you need to have examples to the left and right of you to be "too far" in
either direction. So "the computer" fills that "cold" role--as do
computer people. Or maybe the computer people are on a scale of
too obsessed/focussed/narrow <--> just right <--> airhead/A.D.D.

It's not reality, and it's not a Lie propagated by a Conspiracy either.
It's a game with incentives for everybody to take sides in and play, and
most people do. And as part of playing, you pass on the incentives and
the Myth to others.

I don't know if my anger shows through here. The idea that instead of the
truth, people deal in these *consensus travesties* of the truth, and
willingly descend into these childish role-playing games, leading "us
innocents" into the same roles--it gripes my butt. Probably because I
was already sucked in. I think I'm one of those people who would've gone
much further in the Nerd direction without _Computer Lib_ appearing at the
right time.


--           Steve Witham          web page under reconsideration
"At the latter I was informal, at the former I wore my suit,
 I wore my swimming suit."  --Kate & Anna McGarrigle