"The average PC modern department..."

Gessler, Nicholas (gessler@ANTHRO.SSCNET.UCLA.EDU)
Sat, 11 Jun 1994 01:40:00 PDT

I've got nothing against computers and cyberspace. I'm heavily invested in
them. Some anthropological perspective in their design would be an
improvement, and their versatility keeps rising while their prices keep
dropping. So I'm always looking for ways to facilitate communication in
texts and pictures. Certainly "ubiquitous computing" will carve out a lot of
that space, and create new problems, as it solves some of the old problems
with paper hard copy.

Among the cyberspace community, there seem to be two views of the future:
There are those who believe the coming information age will increase
democratization and spawn specialized cottage industries. And there are
those who believe the information processing explosion will produce an elite
divorced from the community at large. I suppose both trends will emerge.

We would all like better computing facilities. But a look around many
departments shows an aging inventory of PCs, XTs, and a few ATs. I often
hear complaints of Pre-Cambrian (PC) installations. At UCLA, and I imagine
at other universities, microcomputer support has been waning. "You're on
your own," with the new technologies.

So bring on the new technologies, and with them the requisite financial,
material, and consultational support. My 486 runs way too slow and I'd like
a massively parallel machine. And of course a head mounted display and data
glove so that I can explore data-space. To keep up with industry, which is
something we must do, we necessarily limit our audience by adopting the
latest communications technologies. Case in point the Interval Research
"Placeholder Project" which sought to immerse interacting players in
different cognitive, motor and perceptual worlds. Worthwhile but very
expensive. What is the student/computer ratio in different Anthropology
departments? Or more importantly, what is the student computer hour/student
course instructional hour ratio? (Word processing should be excluded from
this statistic.) I think we could certainly make much better use of
simulations and explorations of data-space, including hypertext. Where do we
get the funding to develop applications? When will modeling become an
acceptable and credible form of scholarly presentation? (Not something that
those other folk in Computer Science do.) And what do we do for those of us
Anthropologists who still hate computers (and who don't take part in this

As an aside, the National Security Agency is looking for a marketing partner
for a software package they developed which reads, clusters, and then
describes texts, producing a constellation of key phrases that reads like an
abstract. When we need even more data compression, perhaps we can move
beyond ASCII characters and words, and compress the ideas as well. That
would certainly save a lot of traffic on the information highway! (yuk, yuk)

If its bigger, smarter and faster, I'm for it! (Except those damned new
rental cars that won't let you open the door until you put on the
parking brake!)

Nick Gessler