If you had a magic machine that would listen to your thoughts and render them visible to all, what would [you] say to it? I own such a device, and I find myself strangely inarticulate before it. I sit here alone in a place I have carefully crafted for this purpose -- a dark woods, a cool breeze through the open doors, a comfortable chair, a beautiful screen folded up before me -- and I wonder what I should record on it.
Four years ago, in this same setting, I began to reflect on personal computing in a networked, hypertextual world. I imagined that the experience I have been having in recent years -- carrying a small computer with me to the lake each summer and finding myself quiet hours in which to record on it my thoughts and wishes, my teaching plans, my memories -- that this experience would be available to anyone in the near future, and that millions of people would seek out such systems and the opportunity to use them in the way I have. I look back on these Webster's Weekly columns, and I find myself more moved by what I said there than by most of my other writing. This is strange, because these columns ran only a few hundred words and I was aware when I wrote them that they were fanciful, self-indulgent, self-referential. Whether it was a reminiscence of my own first personal systems, a recounting of my early attempts to interest Haverford students in the phenomenon of personal computing, or reflection on my teaching, each of these Webster's pieces was an attempt to draw an imagined reader into a charmed circle sketched by thought. I read them now -- even those that seem pitifully short or too self referential to be accessible to the average reader -- and I'm still struck by the clarity and strength of my desire to make this marvel understandable and interesting to others.
And so, alone in the living room by the Bay, I sit gazing at the Dragon NaturallySpeaking screen and I ask myself what it is, really, that I have to say. I chose for the title of my Webster's pieces "Erotic Computing" in the realization that it would be incomprehensible to many but with a feeling that I needed to take the risk of such a title, to be pushed thereby to admit and to reflect on my own charged relationship with these wonderful gizmos. The computer is fun. It is titillating. It is what one chooses to do when one could play. It's a turn-on. It gets you up. It's erotic.
I wander the paths of memory, and I entrust my reflections to the computer. I imagine myself in a psychology lecture in the coming fall, and I file these plans on the computer in hopes that I will find them there when I need them. I seek news of the world using the computer to enter Web-space, and I book-mark my tracks as I segue from story to background to picture to associated story and back to the diary in which each day’s wanderings and reflections are inscribed.