THE HIGH COST OF HIGH TECH by Lenny & John Markoff Siegal


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A populist appraisal of electronic technology's socioeconomic implications that's relentlessly pessimistic, inconclusively prescriptive, frequently illogical, and deadly earnest. Siegal and Markoff take the dimmest possible view of the revolution launched by microcircuits, minicomputers, and telecommunications gear. The authors' worst-case scenario features such drear prospects as a world in which the ""information-poor"" are stranded in their homes without phones, adequate postal services, or even access to libraries. The welfare of the general public is threatened as well, they speculate, not only by ""potential tyrants (who) have been honing their high-tech surveillance techniques, awaiting the opportunity to stifle dissent and crush nonconformity"" but also by Pentagon fanatics intent on caching ""the nuclear button"" in deepest space. In the meantime, California's Silicon Valley and other electronics centers will be polluting the environment with toxic wastes, conducting industrial espionage campaigns, and otherwise engaging in antisocial behavior. Among other rectifiers, the authors propose ""computer citizenship training."" Just how such courses (which would address issues like electronic banking's impact on personal privacy and the effect of word processing on the status of office workers) could be phased into the curricula of thousands of independent school districts is not spelled out. Nor are Siegal and Markoff always consistent in their recommendations. To cite but one example, they suggest tax laws structured to retrieve production jobs that have been farmed out to Asia where, the text notes, chip assemblers toil for serf-like wages under health-impairing conditions. In brief, then, an iffy, overstated case for the proposition that the price of progress is too high. Michael Malone's The Big Score (p. 632) offers a more informed and better balanced appreciation of the potential risks-and rewards.

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 1985
Publisher: Harper & Row