Moths to the Flame: The Seductions of Computer Technology / Edition 1

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In Moths to the Flame, Gregory Rawlins takes us on a humorous yet thought-provoking tour of the world wrought by modern technology.The book's first four chapters explore the worlds of privacy, virtual reality,publishing, and computer networks, while the last four focus on social issues such as warfare, jobs, computer catastrophes, and the future itself. Throughout,eye-opening historical comparisons give a context for the computer age, showing how new technologies have always bred hope and resistance. Provocative yet balanced and sophisticated, Moths to the Flame is an indispensable guidebook to the future.

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Editorial Reviews

Ray Duncan

A Failure of Nerve

I must confess that I bought this book solely on the basis of its evocative title and cover art. I admit that this is a pretty fuzzy set of criteria to justify a book purchase, but it sometimes pays off. Moths to the Flame, however, proved to be a disappointment.

Rawlins addresses all the right issues, but he seems to be categorically unable to take a position on them. If the "scenarios" at the end of some chapters are supposed to tell us something about the author's vision of the future, they are superficial and unconvincing. In this respect, Moths to the Flame reminds me of Bill Gates' The Road Ahead, which was ghostwritten by corporate flacks and then sanitized by corporate lawyers to the point of complete vacuousness.

Rawlins's self-professed special interest is electronic publishing. Although he devotes quite a bit of the book to the question of print publishing in a plugged-in era, his point of view and his perceptions of the hurly-burly, cutthroat publishing industry are almost purely academic. At one point he notes that a book only needs to sell 125,000 copies to get on the New York Times list of bestsellers. This is one of those classic "empty facts" -- true, but meaningless in isolation.

I found it particulary astonishing that Rawlins does not even mention the World Wide Web by name. Did he really think that mentioning the most important event in publishing since the invention of movable type would date his book or make it too controversial? The mind boggles.--Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books

Kirkus Reviews
In eight essays, Rawlins (Mathematics/Indiana Univ.) speculates on the exciting, scary new world computers are bringing us.

In some areas, such as military technology, Rawlins does not expand much on Howard Rheingold's study Virtual Reality (1991). And so much is written these days about the Internet that nothing Rawlins says, startling as it might have been even a year ago, seems surprising today. Rawlins's comments on book publishing, however, offer a fascinating scenario for the next 10 or 20 years. It is now cheaper to produce a book electronically than to print it, and publishers, Rawlins suggests, will soon offer inexpensive subscriptions to their lists of upcoming books, in much the way that the cable TV industry works. Many publishers will resist, as movie producers resisted video, but then will find that they cannot exist without electronic books. All that is needed to set this chain of events in motion is a cheap, user-friendly electronic reader. Rawlins is also insightful on the economics of computers: The frighteningly short cycle of invention and obsolescence, and the manner in which software climbs up the organizational charts, performing ever more complicated and vital functions, eliminating not just typists but executives, too. Careers will turn over and over, and few of us, he suggests, will know with any certainty what the rapidly evolving machines are doing. Rawlins also touches on the most vexing problem of all: the poor. Knowledge, expressed by technology, is power. The numbers of those left out of this equation are growing exponentially. Will the economic benefits of the computer ever trickle downward? Is there any way to avoid the creation of an increasingly small elite controlling access to many of technology's most important uses? Does utopia lie ahead—or endless poverty and war?

Such questions have no answers, but Rawlins asks them brilliantly.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262680974
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 5/9/1997
  • Series: Bradford Books Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Too Many Secrets
The Dancing Men
One If by Land, Two If by Sea
Going Public
The Real McCoy
Out of the Box
Protecting Us from Ourselves
Treasons, Stratagems, and Spoils
Too Many Secrets
Clear and Present Danger
Turning and Turning in the Widening Gyre
2 Infinite in All Directions
The Medium Is Massaged
Refractions Through a Computer Screen
News At Eleven
On the Screen of a Machine
Jacking In
Video Games with Real Blood
The Eyes of a Stranger
Transcontinental Tennis, Anyone?
Beyond the Looking Glass
The Imagination Set Free
In the Screen of the Machine
3 The Power of Ideas
On the Shadows of Ideas
Working in Clay
Thinking Machines
The Frailties of Print
The Geography of Information
Dancing in the Light
The Information Universe
Subscribing to the Idea
The Electronic Bookstore
Getting There from Here
Books on the Margin
The Quick and the Dead
4 Only Connect
The World's Largest Conversation
Drinking from a Firehose
Gossip Makes the World Go 'Round
The Politics of Power
Grave New World
Everywhere Is Here
The Empire Strikes Back
Pregnant with Possibility
5 The Bloody Crystal
Smooth-Running Gun
Nintendo War
Cold Warriors
The Whites of Their Eyes
The Vanishing Pilot
The Last Boys' Club
Eyes in the Sky
On the Bleeding Edge
The Hyperkinetic War
Evolution's Heavy Hand
Shell-Shocked by Dr. Strangelove
Make a Wilderness and Call It Peace
6 The Life You Save
Talking to Machines
Steel-Collar Workers
Cashing In
Machines That Own the World
Gearing Up for a New Century
The Law of Increasing Returns
By theSweat of Thy Brow
Chance and Necessity
Systemic Shock
Round Up the Usual Suspects
Something Under the Bed Is Drooling
7 The Machine Stumbles
To Boldly Go
Journal of the Plague Years
Let Slip the Dogs of War
Brightness Falls from the Air
Money, Money, Money
If It Can Go Wrong, It Will
Eyeless in Gaza
Under the Bludgeonings of Chance
Flying Blind
Friendly Fire
When the Machine Awakes
8 A Creation Unknown
The Never-Ending Dance
A Mind of One's Own
Identifying the Pivot
Into the Exponential
Boarding the Darwinian Bus
Careening Between Pollyanna and Cassandra
Technology Is Our Iron Lung
The New Millennium
Where the Wild Things Are
The End of the Beginning
Let There Be Light
Trembling on the Brink
My Thanks
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