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The Future Does Not Compute by Stephen L. Talbott

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This is from The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst, by Stephen L. Talbott. Copyright 1995 O'Reilly & Associates. All rights reserved. You may freely redistribute this chapter in its entirety for noncommercial purposes. For information about the author's online newsletter, NETFUTURE: Technology and Human Responsibility, see http://www.netfuture.org/.

The most difficult thing to acknowledge is all the authors I ought to have read but have not. In my extraordinarily slow and plodding program of study, I have yet to catch up with many works forming the “standard background” for the discussion I have attempted here. A good example of this bibliographic gap is Theodore Roszak's classic, The Cult of Information (re-issued with a lengthy new introduction in 1994). I have indeed read this book -- but only during the last checking of page proofs before going to press. Where I would surely have adverted to Roszak many times in these pages, I have in fact only managed a last-minute footnote. Other worthy scholars must remain altogether unnoted.

Of those who read various versions of the manuscript, in whole or in part, and gave me valuable comments (not always heeded), I mention especially David Flanagan, Rob Kling, Lowell Monke, Andy Oram, Gerald Phillips, Christian Sweningsen, Tom Talbott, Stuart Weeks, Frank Willison, and Jeff Wright.

David Sewell reviewed the entire manuscript, offering numerous helpful stylistic suggestions. His careful eye taught me how much I have still to learn about editing.

Among my extraordinary colleagues at O'Reilly & Associates, Edie Freedman designed the cover; Nancy Priest handled the interior design; Lenny Muellner, constrained by a shortened schedule, implemented the design in software; Seth Maislin offered great, last-minute advice on the principles of indexing; and Clairemarie Fisher O'Leary and Kismet McDonough-Chan, with their ever discerning eyes, assisted in the final production of the book. Sheryl Avruch managed the whole process, and the entire crew put out the kind of dedicated effort and long hours that cannot be required of anyone.

Special thanks are owing to Tim O'Reilly, president of O'Reilly & Associates, who is not only my publisher and editor, but also my employer. Tim read through the manuscript several times, offering incisive commentary and helping me find my way -- often hollering and clawing at the keyboard -- toward a proper balance. Despite the fact that my views are not his views, he devoted far more of his resources toward enabling me to write this book than he has any reasonable hope of recovering. He believed the book is important. That stance of conviction symbolizes a good part of the reason why I work for O'Reilly & Associates.

I am indebted above all to a man whom I have met only through his published writings: Owen Barfield. It was no small part of my hope in producing this book that it might introduce a few people to Barfield's work who might otherwise never encounter it. The risk is that such a brief exposure as I can give here not only may fail to lay bare the heart of Barfield's accomplishment (I take this for granted), but for that reason may encourage readers to pigeonhole Barfield along with one or another more familiar thinker.

Certainly Barfield does say some things that many others have been saying. But the pigeonholing quickly misleads. The core insights underlying all his work remain among the most original scholarly achievements of this century. So original, in fact, that these insights are still largely “impossible” to accept -- even impossible to think. One has to escape the most deeply ingrained, least conscious habits of modern thought in order to entertain the full import of what Barfield is saying. This is not easy to do, so that the tendency is to take him as merely repeating a more conventional wisdom. No one, however, who has once wrestled through to a close understanding of Saving the Appearances or Worlds Apart will ever again be able to stand within the intellectual traditions of our culture in quite the same way as before.

T. S. Eliot said of Worlds Apart that it is “an excursion into seas of thought which are very far from ordinary routes of intellectual shipping.” I have spent some seventeen years trying to follow Barfield on that excursion -- with only partial, if nevertheless satisfying, success. During most of those seventeen years I was working with computers, and it slowly became clear to me that the central issues bedeviling all of us who try to understand the relation between the human being and the computer are issues upon which Barfield began throwing light some seven decades ago. The Future Does Not Compute is my attempt to reflect a little of that light toward the reader.

Steve Talbott :: The Future Does Not Compute, Acknowledgments

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