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Created3/24/1996
This is
Brad De Long's Home Page


A Wired Child

Brad DeLong

Associate Professor of Economics University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
delong@econ.berkeley.edu
http://www.j-bradford-delong.net


There has long been speculation that the electronic shadows made possible by the computer and telecommunications revolutions will eventually acquire the intensity of sensory effect; that is, the immediacy and complexity necessary to become--in a word--real.

Ever since we began drawing pictures of animals with soot, our intellectual creations have been shadows on the walls of Plato's cav: pointers to memories and objects in the real world that no one would confuse with their original models. But now, for some of us at least, the world behind the computer screen is slowly acquiring "reality". I say, "Let me look in the card catalogue", and I turn to my computer: it has been four yeasr since I have even seen a drawer filled with three-by-five cards. I say, "It's on my desktop", and I mean that a pointer to a computer file exists in the "root" directory of my notebook computer. Card catalogues and desktops are among the first objects to have lost their "reality" to their virtual representations. I do not think they will be the last.

Last month I went upstairs to put my five-year-old son to bed. He was talking--but not to himself. "If you want to read books", he said, "click on the bookcase. If you want to play with dinosaur toys, click over there". He was addressing some phantom user who was clicking on a mouse while viewing him and his room on a computer screen. "To play with Lion King toys, click on the bottom of the bed".

I have cast myself in many roles in my life: space explorer, wise king, and now Berkeley professor. But I never cast myself as the several thousand lines of computer code that make up a program's Help module.

"If you need help, click on my picture on the dresser", my son said. "I'll be there in a flash".


Appearing on page 30 of the March, 1996 issue of Harpers.


Op-Eds

Created 3/24/1996
This is
Brad De Long's Home Page


Professor of Economics J. Bradford DeLong, 601 Evans
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
(510) 643-4027 phone (510) 642-6615 fax
delong@econ.berkeley.edu
http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/