What Do Computers Do?

Rule, James; Attewell, Paul
June 1989
Social Problems;Jun89, Vol. 36 Issue 3, p225
Academic Journal
This article presents a study of detailed interviews in computerized private sector firms in an effort to explore the effects of computing in a cross section of different organizations. In the iconography of the limes, the computer is indisputably a central symbol. No other technology, perhaps no other object of any kind is so widely implicated in the emergence of the world of the future. Science and technology are assumed to play a central role in this transformation, and nothing more dramatically epitomizes the social potency of science and technology than computing. Perhaps for these reasons, computing has become a kind of projective device for social scientists and other social critics. Often enough. each analyst foresees in the social world to come the consummation of whatever trends he or she finds most heartening or most deplorable in the world as it is. And computing is often pictured as the agency by which these fondest hopes or deepest fears are to be realized. Such arguments obviously fly in the face of what everyone "knows" about the reasons for adoption of new technologies: that these innovations represent objectively better ways of doing things. That they serve enduring needs more easily or more fully than the earlier alternatives. An alternative measure of extent of computer use took into account the fact that many computerized activities were linked with others in a package or application. Thus in some firms, for example, order entry, preparing an Invoice, generating a "pick slip' for employees in the warehouse who would ship the item, and updating the customer's account to reflect the amount owed for the order-all these things were accomplished in a single, integrated series of operations, using a single data-base and a single software package.


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