On the Cultural Sources of Computer Communication
This chapter explores some key moments in the early history of computing in the United States and introduces a number of ways of making sense of those contexts out of which the meanings of computer communication have emerged. Starting around 1960, it looks at the beginnings of the shift from the original vision of computers as calculating machines, in a category with slide rules, towards the idea that they might be communication devices, in a category with books, writing, and the telegraph. This conceptual change was crucial to the shift from centralized, batch-processed computers to the interactive, decentralized computers of today. At stake in these differences are competing visions of the character of human reason, particularly the problem of relating means to ends. Are computers strictly a means to an end, or can they be an end in themselves, for example, a form of play? The chapter shows that early computers embodied and foregrounded this question for their designers.
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