An understatement, perhaps
Frank Sinatra: Ring-A-Ding-Ding

Computers and Gambling

In a comment on the previous post, Marianne quotes an Atlantic article which compares the stimulus and reward pattern of using a computer to playing a slot machine. This is a topic of great interest to me, since I spend all day at a computer and have done for many years, and I really see that effect in myself. In fact, like an alcoholic or a compulsive gambler, I have had to admit that I have a problem. The effects are not clearly destructive in the way that alcoholism and gambling are, amounting mostly to a great deal of distraction and wasted time. But considering that one only has so much time on this earth, and that much less remains to me than has already passed, it's pretty bad.

Going further back, computer science pioneer of the 1960s Joseph Weizenbaum, in a book called Computer Power and Human Reason that made a big impact on me when I read it back in the '70s when I was just beginning to study programming, made the same connection. At that point nobody except programmers dealt with computers interactively, the way everybody does now. He had an extended reflection on the similarity between programming and gambling, quoting Dostoevsky's "The Gambler." I particularly remembering him describing the sensation that this what one was meant to do: I felt it, too, for a short time, though I soon got over it. Back then only a very small number of people were affected, but now almost everyone is. I think I still have the book. If I have time in the next few days I'll try to find that passage and post some excerpts.


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