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You think that you understand technology but when you arrive at The Known World, you discover a land where software pirates sail the seven seas, Derek the Rocket Scientist holds a communal barn raising to install his solar roof, and the future of technology policy is perpetually debated by the Society for the Promotion of Goodness and its rival, the Association for the Prevention of Bad Things.  These are some of the people and institutions that populate The Known World and help explain the nature of society and technology.

This blog contains the essays of David Alan Grier, which appear each month to discuss the ideas, the culture and the stories of the digital age. These blog postings and podcasts come from the column of the same name in Computer.

This podcast is brought to you by Computer magazine, the flagship publication of the IEEE Computer Society.

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Entries with tag computers and society.

The Habit of Change

We know about change.  We have Moore's Law for hardware or at least we are used to the idea that chips improve on an 18 month regime.  The plans for software are not as well defined but we do know that vendors regularly release new systems that will ultimately require us to reorganize our lives on regular schedules.  What do we do for data?  Increasingly, our work is not only data drive but data controlled.  We work with systems that learn our needs from a stream of data.  The problems of how we consider data updates is considered in this month's essay, the Habit of Change.


The Voice of Wisdom

Clouds.  This podcast is another foray into the topic of cloud computing.  In part, I was motivated by several friends who have recently become experts in the cloud because they have repeatedly viewed a commercial for cloud computing that regularly aired during the final games of the recently completed football season.  In listening to their impressions of the ad, I realized that they learned nothing technical or even operational from the little video.  They merely learned the basic lesson that is always carried by such advertisement, the idea that we must trust others to guide us with consumer wisdom.  If we learn to trust, then we will be happy.



(The idea that commercials are a form of wisdom literature comes from Neil Postman's lovely little essay, "The Parable of Ring Around the Collar," in his book Technolopy.  I recommend it highly.)

End of Work

I enjoy reading old books to get a perspective on the problems that face us, though I suppose that soon enough I will be able to drop the word "old" form that statement and still make the same point.

Over the holidays, I returned to Jermey Rifkins' End of Work (Putnam 1995). Rifkin caught the atmosphere in those early days of the commercial internet.  He describes the deskilling of certain jobs, the movement of others to low wage areas, and the shift away from manufacturing.  

Most of these trends we well in place when Rifkin wrote.  I trace them to the 1973 Oil Shock, but I am a Detroiter.  

At the same time, Rifkin did not have the position to realize the great flexibility and power of digital communications, the great challenge of providing a uniform environment for the distribution of goods, and the problems of managing large amounts of labor.  Those, as much as anything, are the marks of the 15 years that have followed his book.  Still, it is a good read and is truly a foundation for understanding the state of our time.  




The Migration to the Middle

It is a new year and a time to glance around, tie up our shoes and take a look at where we are going.  As readers of this column know, I am concerned about technology workers and the environment in which they work.  I spent some time with the numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and began to a few patterns that we have tended to overlook.  I was thinking about them when Freddie dropped me a line on Facebook and all of this led to a discussion of a new movement of labor to the middle ground.  From his stories and the realization that the largest growing technical education program is in the field of game design, I began to think about the future shape of the field.


 Here is the first podcast of the year.



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Blogs of Note

Out Of Print: Notes from the IEEE-CS Director of Publications and Services

IT History: A blog by Paul Ceruzzi of the Smithsonian

David Alan Grier

David Alan Grier is a computer scientist, an established observer of the technology industry and a writer on issues of science and society.  In addition to producing The Known World, he has written two books,  When Computers Were Human, (Princeton University Press, 2005), which is the story of the workers who did scientific calculation before we had electronic computers.  In addition he has published Too Soon to Tell: Essays for the End of the Computer Revolution, (John Wiley/IEEE Computer Society, 2009).  A video of When Computers Were Human can be found here while a brief talk about Too Soon to Tell is found here. 

He is currently an associate professor at the Center for International Science and Technology Policy at the George Washington University.  

Despite sharing a common hometown and a common birth year with David Alan Grier the actor, he is an entirely different person.