Computer Literacy and the Cybernetic Dream

Berman tells the story of a friend called Susan. It so impressed me that I cannot but elaborate on it. Susan teaches high school in Northern Florida. Many of her students have home computers. When Susan assigns a paper to these students, they run off to their machines. They feed it Susan’s keywords, have it retrieve materials from data banks, string these together and present them to the teacher as their homework. One afternoon, Frank, one of these students, stayed on with Susan after class. The paper that week had been on drought and hunger south of the Sahara. Frank wanted to show her more of his printouts, and at one point Susan interrupted him. She said, ‘Frank, tell me, what do you feel about this?’ Frank stared at her for a moment and then replied: ‘I don’t know what you mean.’ At this moment the abyss between Susan and Frank comes into view. Michel Foucault would have spoken about an epistemological chasm. Let me sketch her mind and his.

By Ivan Illich

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