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High Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian Paperback – 1 Oct 2000

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Product details

  • Paperback: 221 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books; Reprint edition (1 Oct. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385489765
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385489768
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,111,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Clifford Stoll, the Frank Zappa of cyberculture, dances around and about information architecture in High-Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian. His friendly, just-folks style is accessible and entertaining, even for the painfully postmodern readers who most desperately need Stoll's quiet scepticism.

The 23 short essays are split between education and more general computer-related topics, but each reflects a unique and consistent viewpoint that is marginalised at best: computers might be neat, but they aren't revolutionary. He walks a very narrow path, eschewing both the utopians' rosy mirrorshades and the Luddites' monkeywrenches in favour of the least sexy accessory of all--critical thought. Why are we supposed to wire every classroom? Whose best interests are served by programs offering "computer literacy"? Can we really meet people online? Stoll asks the reader to check assumptions and suspend judgements while we determine what is really best for our children and our culture. His ideas aren't the stuff sound bites are made of, though his writing has enough pith and charm to keep even the most rabid techno-partisan engaged. It must be a blast to infuriate the smug and unthinking punditocracy for a living; High-Tech Heretic lets us in on the fun, while stretching our eye-rolling muscles and exercising our old-fashioned seawater brains. --Rob Lightner

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By K. Lane on 23 April 2002
Cliff Stoll once more brings his sense of humour and sound knowledge of both life and computing to the fore. Some complained that Silicon Snakeoil was unfocused and rambling "complaint" about the way technology was going - others saw this as being its biggest strength. High Tech Heretic strikes the killer blow to those complaints - and not just through its solid focus. It challenges you to take a step back from Intel, Microsoft, "E-Learning" and every other company, buzzword or promise, and consider the real picture. Whether you're in the US or the UK (and probably many other places) the books message seems to hold true. We are short-changing our children and their educators. We convince both that computers are the answer - that we will pay for a laptop, but we won't pay for a ruler or a piece of A4 paper.

The book is not pessamistic or depressing - it has plenty of anecodtes, examples and stories - just as Cliff's previous books had this touching and powerful edge. What it does do is paint a picture of a world in 20 years time where we have thousands trained in HTML, and no-one able to wire up a light fitting or service your automobile.

School Governors, Head and regular Teachers and Local Government and Education Department officials should all be required to read this. Anyone else who cares to think about exactly what and how we are teaching children should also absorb its message. Its as near as I think you can get to an antidote to the flash money and weaselease promises of those who sell computers and software to schools. As is said in the book - whats better, a picture of a whale or a dolphin from the Internet, or a small aquarium with some real fish there in the classroom? Its our choice...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 130 reviews
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Second Thoughts 1 Oct. 2000
By "" - Published on
Stoll continues themes first begun in 'Silicon Snake Oil', this time focussing on the specific question of computers and the Internet in the classroom. He seems to especially question the notions of making learning 'fun' and 'exciting': he argues that effective learning is not generally 'fun', but is instead genuinely hard work. He goes further, and concludes that educational tools which are sold as 'fun and exciting' do so by ceasing to be educational.
Stoll questions the 'empowerment' of the Internet. Empowerment in what way, exactly? On the Internet, everyone is a de facto editor / publisher, and much material that would never be printed is given equal status with the greatest novels. As the most thoughful and well-researched works are equalized by the net to the grammatically fractured toss-offs of anyone, the net actually weakens critical faculties.
If empowerment means strengthening, then Stoll concludes that the Internet actually enfeebles. Being online is a solitary activity masquerading as a social one. Every minute spent online is another minute in which true opportunties for social contact and interaction have been lost.
Stoll has a real affection for libraries, and does not like changes involving purchase of CD ROMs and computers. He notes that computers and media technology are obsolete in five to ten years, but that many communities have incurred 30 year debts to purchase such equipment, frequently by reducing or eliminating new book acquisitions.
The problem in the end has nothing to do with Stoll. As a web engineer with a dot com, as a self-employed web designer, I shuddered when people wanted to put streaming video on a website. I would always ask, why not make a TV commercial?
This idea was met with distaste, but streaming video was exciting. Hmmm, aren't they the same thing? Somehow, those who wanted streaming video never actually defined where it would come from, and certainly never addressed actually making it.
I agree with Stoll, that the form of the net is such that people forget the content, assuming that quality content will follow. Follow from where?
The problem with this book is the same as with SSO: the people who most need to read and think and think hard about what Stoll is saying, are the non-thinkers who label him a 'Luddite' for questioning the technology - the very people least likely to be reading, period.
End of the day, Stoll makes a thousand times more sense than his detractors. Every educator, everyone involved with development of the Internet, everyone concerned about their childs education, needs to read Stoll, and to challenge the creeeping and by now almost invisible assumption that computrification is a priori good and useful.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Bullseye... 30 Mar. 2002
By Daniel L Edelen - Published on
As an educator with over fifteen years in the computer industry, I've "looked at life from both sides now." And the truth is, Stoll is 100% on target with his assessment of the primrose path down which computerization is leading education.
For those looking for a more scholarly work that addresses the false promises spouted by Gates and his ilk, look elsewhere (John Locke's "The De-Voicing of Society" is a prime example), as Cliff Stoll writes in a more popular style.
The amount spent on purchasing, maintaining, and updating both computer hardware and software borders on the criminal, with school administrators caught between the veritable rock and hard place. The populist idea that computer usage equals brighter students is a poison for which there is no antidote. Stoll is correct: the hard way is the only way. Nor can there be any substitute for excellent teachers and face-to-face dialog. The overemphasis on computers provides an easy out for all three points.
There is no sin in confessing that this path is a deadend. But with so much money riding on the decision, the outcome seems pre-ordained. Stoll shares this less encouraging belief.
I once encountered in Palo Alto a network specialist whose sole work was with two Silicon Valley school districts. His consulting and implementation fees earned him a cool quarter million a year - a quarter million that could easily have provided dozens of other more beneficial educational programs. It was his soulless laugh over the way he taking these schools for a ride that was the clincher for me.
Yes, the hard way is the only way. Take the time to read this book and you'll be a believer, too.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Right On! 1 Oct. 2000
By A Customer - Published on
I absolutely loved this book. I read half the book the first day I got it. Stoll is so sensible about computers and humorous at the same time. He has written in this book exactly what I have felt about computers and their use in schools. I have used computers, and the net, in school projects for a long time and, even though I love the technology, I can also see how frustrating and time consuming it really is. Stoll brings this out so well in this book. We need a middle ground in this computer-crazy world. We need to rethink the importance of computers in the classroom, rather than just doing what is politically correct.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
High-Tech Hypocrite 27 April 2006
By Krystal Kelly - Published on
Clifford Stoll's exercise in bashing technology has come to a climactic realization in High-Tech Heretic. Stoll wishes to express that computers do not belong in the classroom, and that human interaction is the only successful teaching method. Students do need teachers, but they do not need mind-numbing lecture or lackluster busy work, which is the very thing that is provided by most contemporary teachers. Interacting through the internet and learning via computer allows students to temporarily escape the torture that is public education. Teaching is what needs to be reformed, not computers. We should be focusing on mundane lesson plans of uninspiring teachers instead of the overgrowth of computer activity in public schools.

Stoll's wit and humor throughout the book are entertaining enough, but soon become arid and repetitive. His focus on condemning technology is tiresome. He centers his argument on the theory that computers will replace teachers in the classroom, when such a thing could never feasibly be accomplished. His theoretical situations, while thought provoking, are simply the manifestation of his paranoia.

I am a student at a university equipped with several computer labs. I own two computers and do not consider them to be useless pieces of equipment only suitable for word processing. I use my computer for valuable research as well as communicating from friends around the globe, hardly a wasteful pastime. I not only collect information, but new and valuable experiences I will be able to use throughout my life. If Stoll influenced my computer exploits I could turn into the cynical, mistrustful person that Stoll appears to be in High-Tech Heretic. Clifford Stoll tries hard to be philosophical, but comes off as contemptuous.

High-Tech Heretic is not a book for the faint of heart. It should be considered with a skeptical eye and not taken literally. Computers are another part of life and education that are here to stay, no matter how hard Clifford Stoll tries to condemn them.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Heroic 24 Nov. 2001
By Arnold Kling - Published on
If you care about our education system, and you are inclined to think that computers are part of the solution, you should read this book. Stoll makes the case that computers are more likely part of the problem.
My favorite line is from p. 99:
"No pilot project in educational technology has ever been declared a failure."
This aptly characterizes the process of evaluating technology in education as utterly lacking in rigor.
Unfortunately, this book also is lacking in rigor. On that score, I cannot disagree with Stoll's critics. There is a lot more strong rhetoric than strong proof here.
But the bottom line remains: Stoll is probably right. The conventional wisdom vastly overstates the benefits and understates the costs of computers in education. If this book does nothing more than encourage people to ask questions about costs and benefits, it will have done a heroic service.
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