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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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How We Got Here

If you want to blame somebody for the computerization of America, blame George Washington and the other framers of the Constitution. Way back in 1787, Washington and company decreed that the new republic would conduct a census every ten years. It sounded easy enough at the time, but as the United States expanded in both geographical size and population, the job of the census takers became increasingly difficult.

The problem wasn't just the growing numbers of "huddled masses" in search of freedom that were docking at U.S. ports. Like any government program, the census suffered mission creep. By 1880, the census was much more than a simple head count: it had become a tool for learning more about the people who made up the nation. Congress ordered the recording of people's gender, marital ...

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