1973 Archives: “The Frightening Computer Trend”

Dave Unplugs HAL

Yesterday as I was scavenging historical tidbits to share via my library’s #todayinhistory Twitter feed, I came across this treasure from the August 23, 1973 edition of the Lawrence Journal-World.  I’m fascinated that this satirical piece was published long before the Internet (and especially social networks) were widespread.  Viva technophobia!

To help put this in context: just five years earlier, in 1968, Stanley Kubrick had debuted “2001: A Space Odyssey” in which the computer HAL takes on an eerily human personality.  In 1970, both the VCR and dot matrix printer were introduced, bringing more tangible, enduring qualities to personal technology.  Then, in 1971, IBM introduced the first speech-recognition software (with a vocabulary of 5000 words), and the first synthesized computer voice was also demoed.  And finally, in 1972, the floodgates burst when Atari released Pong.

Yet none of this explains the article’s bizarre fixation with marital infidelity.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present:

EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO KNOW?: THE FRIGHTENING COMPUTER TREND
by Art Buchwald

WASHINGTON – Somewhere in this great land of ours there is a computer stashed full of information on you.  Whenever you want a bank loan, a credit card or a job, this computer will, in a matter of seconds, give some total stranger almost every detail of your life.

Unfortunately for most of us, the computer is unable to discriminate between fact and malicious gossip, and once the information is fed into it, it stays there forever.

The other day I was considering going into a car pool with three other men, Hicks, Kroll and Anderson.  I have known these men casually for years, but when you join a car pool you really want to know what they’re like.

SO I ASKED a friend of mine in the retail credit business if I could use his computer for a few hours.

He agreed, and I went down there and typed out: “What do you know about Hicks, Al, who lives at 43 Lover’s Leap Terrace?”

The computer started chattering: “Hicks, Al, born Oct. 23, 1925, bottle-fed, bed-wetter until 7 years old.”

I typed back: “Forget about childhood and give me some other facts.”

The computer replied: “Hicks has a domineering wife who the whole world thinks is sweet as maple syrup.  Whenever she gets mad at him he starts biting his nails.”

I typed back: “I’m not interested in that.  What’s the condition of his car?”

THE COMPUTER paused for a few seconds and then tapped out: “Hicks owns 1957 Buick convertible for which he is still paying $80 a month.  It has been in the garage 33 times and has cost him $1,500 in repairs.  Two of the springs in the back seat are broken and he needs new snow tires.  He has the car washed once a month.”

It added: “Hicks never cheats on his wife, though he thinks about it a lot.”

“That’s enough,” I told the computer, “Now give me a run-down on Kroll, H.G., who lives at 1 Lion’s Den Circle.”

THE TAPES in the computer started turning furiously and finally stopped.  The teletype began to chatter, “Kroll, H.G., had strong mother who dressed him in silk sailor suits until he was 13 years old.”

“Get on with it,” I typed impatiently.

“He owns 1970 four-door Mercury sedan which has special silk seat covers.  Likes to dress up in his wife’s clothes when children are at camp.”

“That’s enough,” I typed angrily.  “What about Anderson, E. L., 198 Dover Cliffs?”

“Anderson is having a big thing with a lady cosmetics buyer from Lord & Taylor.”

“What about his car?” I demanded.

“The don’t use his car.  They use hers.”

“I didn’t mean that.  Is his automobile safe for our car pool?”

“It is now, but if Mrs. Anderson ever finds out about the lady buyer…”

“Thank you very much,” I typed.  “You’ve been most helpful.”

“Don’t mention it.  Oh, by the way, when are you going to stop beating your wife?”

Well, there ya go, Readers! Of course, today, you’d just stalk your prospective carpool on Facebook ~

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