Clifford Stoll loves computers. He loves them so much he even converted his old outdated Macintosh into an aquarium rather than put it out with the trash. What this veteran programmer and self-made social critic doesn't love, however, is "the cult of computing"--the "blind faith that technology will deliver a cornucopia of futuristic goodies without extracting payment in kind."
In particular, Stoll hates the way computer cultists have infiltrated America's schools, and in High Tech Heretic--a straight-talking, fast-moving broadside of a book--he aims every argument in his arsenal at the widespread belief that computers are the greatest educational invention since chalk. While he's at it, he also takes some potshots at the hype about virtual community, the Internet economy, and the death of the book, as well as the scourges of buggy software, ugly hardware, and PowerPoint.
Stoll's contrarianism is so wide-ranging he sometimes flails as he rushes to keep up with himself. But for the most part he hits his targets dead on. Stoll's chatty style and cracker-barrel wit (both of which occasionally grate) seem tailored to convince you he's just talking home-spun common sense, yet he's obviously done his research. Whether he's quoting Thomas Edison's predictions for that great educational tool, "the motion picture" ("in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks") or breaking down the grim budgetary implications of the high-tech school system (more computers means fewer teachers, music rooms, and books), Stoll's choice factual details--and spirited indignation--blow holes in the pretensions of the digital age. --Julian Dibbell