JUST A FEW YEARS AGO people thought of computers as expensive and exotic devices. Their commercial and industrial uses affected ordinary people, but hardly anyone expected computers to become part of day-to-day life. This view has changed dramatically and rapidly as the public has come to accept the reality of the personal computer, small and inexpensive enough to take its place in every living room or even in every breast pocket. The appearance of the first rather primitive machines in this class was enough to catch the imagination of journalists and produce a rash of speculative articles about life in the computer-rich world to come. The main subject of these articles was what people will be able to do with their computers. Most writers emphasized using computers for games, entertainment, income tax, electronic mail, shopping, and banking. A few talked about the computer as a teaching machine.
This book too poses the question of what will be done with personal computers, but in a very different way. I shall be talking about how computers may affect the way people think and learn. I begin to characterize my perspective by noting a distinction between two ways computers might enhance thinking and change patterns of access to knowledge.
Instrumental uses of the computer to help people think have