Silicon Snake Oil : Second Thoughts on the Information Highway

Author: Clifford Stoll
List Price: $14.00
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ISBN: 0385419945
Publisher: Anchor (01 March, 1996)
Edition: Paperback
Sales Rank: 20,394
Average Customer Rating: 3.58 out of 5

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Customer Reviews

Rating: 1 out of 5
The Art and Science of Logic Takes a Fatal Blow
This book contains a veritable catalogue of every fallacy known to the art and science of logic. As a treatise meant to persuade the reader, its reasoning and language is nothing short of ridiculous. He fails to establish any sort of common ground or reliability. Then he wallows in abusive Ad Hominum, discrediting pro-technology positions by insulting those who hold it. He introduces a dozen red herrings, wasting time justifying conclusions irrelevant to the issues at hand. The book erects an army of straw men as it attempts to justify its rejection of positions by creating then discrediting different and usually weaker positions. More than anything it is a gallery of appeals to emotion, attempting to rationalize its conclusions by appealing to the sentiment of the audience. (There is enough thickly sweet sentiment in every chapter to make Cicero proud.) I could go on, but I'm already leaving this review barren of specific examples in order to deliver as much warning as I can in as few words: this book is nothing more than an irrational emotional outburst against computers and the Internet. It contains no compelling argument, and will drown you in sentimental prose as eye-rolling as any grocery store romance novel. Do not expect Stoll to be your rational, level-headed guide to the dangers of technology. Do not expect thoughtfully compiled evidence, articulate and clever argument, and a reasonable conclusion. Should he have had anything to say, he abandoned it from the first sentence of his project to a weak, wandering essay on "feelings" alone.

Rating: 4 out of 5
can we turn our backs on computer network ?
The book is about Stoll's perspective on the hidden costs of new information technology, especially on the role of computer networking in our lives. Instead of viewing computers and networks as good components to make a better society, Stoll's commentary actually supposes that computers and networks are frustrating, expensive, and unreliable.

Can we just simply turn our backs on the network? Why? Because according to Stoll, [computer networks] isolate us from one another and cheapen the meaning of actual experience. They work against literacy and creativity. They undercut our schools and libraries(p.3). Although the Internet provides easier life to our society, a society deals with people, not computers. Human interactions and contacts involve with belonging. Of course, computer networks may also establish a community with the interaction, such as cybersex and cyber-relationship. However, this type of community is without church, cafe or theater. Yes, it has plenty of human contact, but no humanity. Then, what is missing from this neighborhood? We chat without speaking, smile without grinning, and hug without touching. We lose the real life experience and the humanity!

Throughout the book, Stoll's basic mode of argument is to compare two functional techniques: a computational technique (ex. email) and a less-computational technique (ex. postal service). Stoll intents to highlight various positive aspects of the latter technique that are missing in the former. For example, the post office allows a variety of style on envelops, signatures, letterheads, checks, and logos. With the email technique, everyone and every business use the same and uniform style to communicate - ASCII text. The only difference between your messages and others' is the contents. Similarly, Stoll applies this style of argument on the comparisons of libraries with and without computer networks, a classroom with and without computers, and typewrites versus word processors.

It is an entertaining and a thought-provoking book. Stoll cares about what happens to our networked neighborhood, and more importantly, what is happening in our larger society while facing the wave of computer networks. "Computers themselves don't bother me; I am vexed by the culture in which they are enshrined(p.3). No one who is interested in such issue will regard reading Stoll's book.

Rating: 5 out of 5
The Internet will not be the same.
Clifford Stoll's "Silicon Snake Oil" is an interesting and entertaining book to read because it is written in story-like style and he talks about one technology that almost everyone is using right now: the Internt. With his experiemce in the Internet and technology development, Stoll talks about the impact and influence of computers and the Internet on society, for example, computerized classrooms and libraries. He claims that the Internet and computer are not daily necessities and cannot provide a richer or better life. He also implies that people today rely on computers too much and take craftsmanship for granted. He uses his own daily life experience as examples to show the readers that computers and the Internet are helpful and useful tools, but there are also some downsides of using these tools. One interesting argument that he talks about is why libraries should not be computerized and on-line.

One point that Stoll makes in his book is that people should treat and think of computers and the Internet as tools that help us to achieve our goals, not treat them as the ONLY tools that are available. Examine the penmanship in younger generation and you will see Stoll's viewpoint. Overall, this book gives me several eye-opening perspectives and ideas regarding computers and the Internet. I felt I've been brainwashed after reading this book because I would never think of computers and the Internet as Stoll did. However, Stoll is a little too pessimistic about the information highway. Many things have changed during the last 7 years and it would be great if Stoll continue his thought or argument on this topic.

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