Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents
by Ellen Ullman
Not only does Ullman tell us what it was like to be an engineer during the dot-com bubble, but she does it in prose that many professional writers envy. The programmers in her milieu live in a strange place, longing to slip the bounds of humanity through their code; at the beginning of the book, Ullman and two other programmers haven’t left the building where they are working in three days.
The end users, who are only too human, are a source of contempt for these programmers — and Ullman’s attempt to bridge these two groups with a program makes her increasingly troubled. Because far from the machine, away from the sterile comforts of logic, there are people: AIDS patients, who the program is meant to help. For better or worse, we’ve all gotten closer to the machine since Ullman first wrote, but this memoir is perhaps the most powerful book ever written about technology. — Liz Lopatto