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Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents

Hal Harris's picture
Wed, 04/01/1998 - 00:00 -- Hal Harris

Ellen Ullman is a middle-aged female software engineer. Those adjectives usually don't describe a single person. As a philosophical and forthright spokesman for a segment of the society most often characterized by its lack of social and verbal abilities, she is also singular in that way. "Close to the Machine" describes a subculture of technically able but socially backward "techies" who write the code that runs computers. As interesting as is her description of the relationships of people to technology, even more fascinating to me is the culture in which she and her company struggle from one project to another. She writes: "Everyone agrees: be a knowledge worker or be left behind. Technical people, consultants, contract programmers: we are going first. We fly down and down, closer to the virtualized life, and where we go the world is following. Companies are shedding employees then regaining the use of their labor as "contingent workers": as on-call workers, temporaries, workers provided by contract firms, and independent contractors." We are seeing aspects of the same phenomenon in chemistry.

Pick Attribution: 

Ellen Ullman

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, January 1, 1997