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IEEE Annals of the History of Computing Volume 18 Number 4 -- Reviews

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129975D
Original Publication Date: 1996-Dec-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 12 page(s) / 51K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

PEGGY KIDWELL: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

The Reviews Department includes reviews of publications, films, audio and video tapes, and exhibits relating to the history of computing. Full-length studies of technical, economic, business, and institutional aspects or other works of interest to Annals readers are briefly noted, with appropriate bibliographic information. Colleagues are encouraged to recommend works they wish to review and to suggest titles to the Reviews Editor. Thomas K. Landauer, The Trouble With Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity. Cambridge, Mass., and London: MIT Press, 1995, ISBN 0-262-12186-7, $27.50, 424 pp. ";To err is human,"; goes the old saw. Contemporary folklore adds: ";But to really foul things up requires a computer."; This book is about some of the ways that computers have fouled things up. More precisely, it is about the ways computers have not lived up to their promise and why.

This text was extracted from a PDF file.
This is the abbreviated version, containing approximately 7% of the total text.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1996 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Reviews

PEGGY KIDWELL, EDITOR

The Reviews Department includes reviews of publications, films, audio and video tapes, and exhibits relating to the history of computing. Full-length studies of technical, economic, business, and institutional aspects or other works of interest to Annals readers are briefly noted, with appropriate bibliographic information.

Colleagues are encouraged to recommend works they wish to review and to suggest titles to the Reviews Editor.

Thomas K. Landauer, The Trouble With Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity. Cambridge, Mass., and London: MIT Press, 1995, ISBN 0-262-12186-7, $27.50, 424 pp. "To err is human," goes the old saw. Contemporary folklore adds: "But to really foul things up requires a computer." This book is about some of the ways that computers have fouled things up. More precisely, it is about the ways computers have not lived up to their promise and why.

Computers are remarkable technical achievements, and they are becoming more remarkable every year. One need only look at newspapers ads promising ever-increasing MIPS and megahertz and memory to see that. But think of computers not as machines existing in some Platonic land of pure data, but rather as part of a complex social and economic system, and suddenly, it becomes hard to see exactly how all that power is useful to us. Computers in real life are aggravating, time- consuming, troublesome, and expensive. Not to mention really good at fouling things up.

In this well-written book, Landauer insists that we look at computers not simply as marvelous technologies but rather as tools people use to do work. He wants us to put aside our enthusiasm for the miracles of the new technology and ask the sort of questions we ask about other machines:

-- Are they providing a good return on investment? -- Are they making our jobs easier? -- Are they making our lives better? -- Are they solving our problems?

Suddenly, it is hard to see just what is so marvelous about the computer.

The first half of the book reviews the convincing evidence that computers have not increased our economic productivity, the so-called productivity paradox. There is lime original here, but the book offers a fine summary of much that has been written on the subject in the past few years. Landauer raises but does not answer questions about how long it should take for productivity increases to show up in economic statistics, what the sectoral differences in computer productivity are, and, briefly, some of the reasons why we continue to invest in a technology that does not seem to pay off.

The second half of the book proposes that changing the way we interact with computers, to make them easier to use, is the key to making the investment in computers pay off. Landauer suggests that pa...