Review of:
Stoll, Clifford, Silicon Snake Oil: New York, Doubleday, 1995.

In Silicon Snake Oil, Stoll offers a thoughtful analysis of how we are interacting with new technology, such as email, Internet, and chat rooms, and what we give up in our real lives to do so. He states that computer images are surrogates for real experiences. While we are paging through irrelevant email messages and downloading programs we will never use, we are sacrificing our work, home, and leisure time.

Stoll examines the issue of online community building. On the Internet, there are a lot of places which purport to be "virtual communities" as ways to meet people and get to share intimate details of each others lives. Yet, these virtual communities lack a sense of permanence, belonging, feeling of location, or cohesiveness. The online metaphor of community is challenged when the gathering place for friends to meet online does not serve coffee or when the chat lounge does not feature comfortable chairs. Do people feel rested while hunched over a keyboard? Can you relax online drinking a cappicino when your workstation is cluttered with printouts and manuals?

Being a self-proclaimed techno-evangelist, I feel Stoll's message is a good antidote for assigning too much power to our tools. I enjoy learning new programs and software, but I take time out of my "hobby" time, not my work time. Some people are pressured into sacrificing their "leisure" time to learn a program for work. This, I think, is the difference between wanting to learn a new skill and feeling coerced. I think businesses are creating environments in which workers are intimidated into accepting technology as the solution to all problems. Those of us who has worked in institutions know the trendiness of new tools. Technical solutions will have a long shelf-life if employees are able to incorporate them readily into measures they are already taking. If a technical tool is too complicated, it will disappear from lack of use

Stoll repeatedly points to technology's lack of warmth. He feels that libraries will never disappear because some entity must exist to answer harder, multi-layer human questions. Online services are good for finding facts and gathering information a requestor knows he or she wants. There are many library users who don't know what they want until they browse or ask for assistance from librarians. Librarians facilitate searches for people who can't articulate what they are want. If librarians are made to feel their profession is dying, fewer quality candidates will enroll in professional schools. Our society will suffer from the lack of qualified librarians who can assist users in finding what they either want or need to know. I feel this is a serious threat to communities across the country, especially poorer communities which are not rich with alternative forms of information.

Written by Cherie Bowers
March 16, 1996
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This document was created and is maintained by the Virtual Communities group in Howard Besser's ILS 604 class (Winter 1996).