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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Chapter 10. Excuse Me, But Are You Human?

I met Teng on an electronic mailing list devoted to issues of computer technology and civil liberties. I was a freelance writer working on stories about the computer revolution for a number of newspapers and magazines. He was a systems analyst in Singapore, responsible for running a network of computers in a big bank. Teng was interested by one of my postings and sent me an email message telling me what was going on in his office. Over the next few months, we started sending email back and forth, and soon became electronic friends.

For two years, Teng and I exchanged email at least two or three times a week. He told me what life was like in Singapore, what kinds of things he bought in the stores, the influence of American culture, and how his bank was struggling with new technologies. Teng also asked me a lot of questions. I told him what life was like in the U.S., what kinds of products I liked to buy, what movies I liked, and what kind of car I was thinking about buying. Sometimes Teng's questions seemed a little intrusive, but I always figured that he was really interested in American culture. Sometimes he didn't quite seem to understand the emails I sent him, and sometimes he'd ask me something I'd already answered a few weeks before. I always attributed the confusion to the language difference.

Then the chance of a lifetime came up: a New York magazine wanted me to go to Singapore and report firsthand on that country's obsession with ...

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