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Digital Deja Vu

Something sounded vaguely familiar when the huge Digital Equipment Corporation announced it was starting to answer the telephone with living people rather than machines. More efficient.

Why familiar? We got out John Hanson Mitchell's 1990 book, "Living at the End of Time," telling how he leaves his cabin in the woods to visit Digital. He's amazed to find a conference room named Henry David Thoreau, who had a more famous cabin. His host decides to demonstrate the ability of his computer terminal to communicate with anyone else in the building. No response to repeated attempts at the keyboard.

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"Finally, in exasperation, he stood up on his chair and shouted down the row of cubicles.

" 'Mike,' he said. 'Turn on your machine.' "

Operator? Please ring Mr. Thoreau.