July 13, 2004
Ellen Ullman: The Bug

Ellen Ullman's The Bug was released in paperback today. While I've just started reading it, there've already been some good passages, eg:

And so we waited. Tick-tock, blink-blink, thirty seconds stretched themselves out one by one, a hole in human experience. Waiting for the system: life today is full of such pauses. The soft clacking of computer keys, then the voice on the telephone telling you, "Just a moment, please." The credit-card reader instructing you "Remove card quickly!" then displaying "Processing. Please wait." The little hourglass icon on your computer screen reminding you how time is passing and there is nothing you can do about it. The diddler at the bottom of the browser screen going back and forth, back and forth like a caged crazed animal. All the hours the computer is supposedly saving us--I don't believe it, in the sum of things, I thought as I stood there leaning on my luggage cart. It has filled our lives with little wait states like this one, useless wait states, little slices of time in which you can't do anything at all but stand there, sit there, hold the phone--the sort of unoccupied little slices of time no decent computer operating system would tolerate for itself. A computer, waiting like this, would find something useful to do: check for other processes wanting attention, flush a file buffer, refresh a cache, at least.

Cut 'n pasted from the 1st chapter excerpt here. More at Salon (registration req'd or view the ad)

I can also heartily recommend Ullman's earlier (non-fiction) book, Close to the Machine. There are few authors that are able to write so well, with such authority, on what an intimate relationship with computing is like while still maintaining a human perspective on things.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at July 13, 2004 07:42 PM
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