Sunday, October 03, 2021

How have computers changed society? Harry Lewis (with co-authors) have a book out on that.

 (Disclosure - Harry Lewis was my PhD advisor.)

It seems like just a few weeks ago I I blogged about a book of Harry Lewis's that was recently available (see here).  And now I am blogging about another one. Writing two books in two years seems hard! I can only think of one other computer scientist who has done that recently (see here and here).

In 2008 Abelson, Ledeen, and Lewis wrote 

Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness after the Digital Explosion

which I reviewed in SIGACT news, see here

Both computers and society have changed since 2008. Hence an update was needed. 

In 2021 Adelson, Ledeen, Lewis, and Seltzer wrote a second edition.

Should you buy the new version if you bought the old version? 

1) Not my problem- I got them both for free since I reviewed them. 

2) Not your problem- The second edition is available free-on-line here. Is that a link to some dark corner of the dark web? No, its the formal webpage about the book. So the book is available free-on-line legally, if you care (and even if you don't care). 

3) If you like paper, the book is on amazon. (If you don't like paper, the book is still on amazon). 

I reviewed it in SIGACT news. A non-paywalled link: here (is that link legal? I have no idea.) 

In this post I'll just mention two things that changed since the last book

1) Shared Music and pirating were an issue back in 2008.  It does not seem to be anymore since there is now a variety of services that seem to make pirating not worth it: itunes, streaming services, and some bands give it away for free and ask you to pay what its worth. Movies are still struggling with this issue. 

2) AI systems that reinforce existing bias is a new problem.


  1. While going digital has its pros for our
    eco-friendly readers; nothing beats reading
    papers on good quality paper, on which you can
    circle, mark and scribble notes on.
    You can even smell (not taste) the good paper.
    You might want to tell me, "but hey, I can do that on some digital kindle type version with a stylus pen" ...
    Nothing beats the paper, pencil, fountain pen experience.
    (Does this sentiment only apply to
    the more mature [ aka 'older'] readership?)

    1. I used to think that liking paper was my inner-luddite talking; however my 20-something students have the same sentiments.Also, Math on kindle still does not work that well- not sure if its the technology or if its needing to go back and fourth so much.

    2. Sure, paper is better for textbooks, serious literature.

      But killing trees for schlock fiction and non-specialist nonfiction is criminal.

      And if you are reading in a reasonably strong but not perfect second language, the Kindle will give you a good native-speaker oriented dictionary at a touch. For certain challenging languages (e.g. Chinese and Japanese) this is a serious godsend.

    3. @DJL, since you happen to be in the other town;
      you should scrap kindle and go native --
      Sony Digital Paper is the "ultimate" experience.
      That said, even this device doesn't come close to
      note taking or scribbling on real paper.
      But point regarding schlock fiction and non-specialist non ficution ....
      @gasarch, apologies for hijacking this thread with nonsensical comments on what medium to read papers on.

    4. "The Sony Digital Paper division in the United States is now closed."

  2. Thank you for the heads-up. We used the first edition at our college for a First Year Seminar (kind-of a freshperson's rhetoric), in the sections taught by CS people. They had a good experience; I'll tell them that 2e is available.

    About "Koan 5: More of the same can be a whole new thing," I often cite to my students a table that I first saw in one of Hamming's books: walking averages 4 mph, driving is 40 mph, flying is 400. It is more of the same, just moving, but an order of magnitude difference changes everything. A society where flying is widely available is different than a driving-only society.