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High-Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian Paperback – September 12, 2000

3.3 out of 5 stars 130 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 skepticism. The 23 short essays are split between education and more general computer-related topics, but each reflects a unique and consistent viewpoint that is marginalized, at best: computers might be neat, but they aren't revolutionary. He walks a narrow path, and eschews both the utopians' rosy, mirrored shades and the Luddites' monkey wrenches in favor of the least sexy accessory of all--critical thought. Why are we supposed to wire every classroom? Whose best interests are served by programs that offer "computer literacy?" Can we really meet people online? Stoll asks the reader to check assumptions and suspend judgments, while we determine what's really best for our children and our culture. His ideas aren't the stuff of which sound bites are made, although 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 join the fun, stretch our eye-rolling muscles, and exercise our old-fashioned seawater brains. --Rob Lightner


"An often funny and acerbic look at the new computer priesthood." --The Christian Science Monitor

"Stoll's long experience with technology gives him authority. . . . His claims are based on facts, logic and common sense." --The Seattle Times

"Wonderful. . . . Stoll has Internetted there, computed that and seen through the hype about computers and education."        --Chicago Sun-Times

"When Stoll says something, gearheads and non-gearheads alike usually listen. Not only is he an entertaining writer, but he is completely sensible in his approach about the role computers should play in our lives."        --The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Wonderful...SHould be in the hands of every school administrator ready to sign a check for more computers."-Chicago Sun-Times

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (September 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385489765
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385489768
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,066,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on October 1, 2000
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.
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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.
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By A Customer on October 1, 2000
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.
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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.
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