TV tour through the weird, wonderful world of computers

If you are skittish about your role in high-tech society, you are not alone. According to David Hartman, host of ABC's ``Good Morning America'' and guide into the seemingly impenetrable fraternity of computers via The Future Is Now (ABC, Tuesday, June 4, 10-11 p.m., check local listings), we are long past the time when we can afford to be passive about chips, mini or micro. In his new high-stepping documentary-special, Mr. Hartman seems determined to teach us all about computers . . . well, something about them. And, according to Hartman, ``You don't have to love them, just use them.''

Call it info-tainment. In an hour-long program that somehow falls between two categories -- information and entertainment -- ``The Future Is Now'' manages to moonwalk through the weird and wonderful world of computerization and robotization, eyes agog, brain alert . . . all to a disco beat. You'll find yourself learning without effort, and enjoying it at the same time.

Hartman ranges wide -- all the way from high-tech sports rehabilitation and Chippewa Indian reservation computers to synthesized music and Lucasfilm's computer animation, with stopovers at Paris computer information centers and a Dutch bellmaker who has switched to microchip bell ringing.

It's all in good fun, and it moves so fast you hardly have time to say: ``What did he say? What's it all about, David?''

``The Future Is Now'' doesn't explain anything about anything. It flashes wonders before your eyes, points its finger at them, exclaims with astonishment, considers the implications briefly . . . then moves on to the next wonder.

Perhaps the most frightening moment on the whole show comes when a little girl says: ``Topo [the robot] is funner [sic] than a friend.'' There are generations, one suddenly realizes, growing up today with closer ties to computers than to human beings.

Even David Hartman's reassurance that ``the best high-tech computer made is your brain'' doesn't compensate for the flash of wariness which may come to you as a moment of revelation.

But never fear, ``The Future'' has already moved on. A chat with David Hartman

``You shouldn't be fearful of computers,'' says David Hartman. ``After all, they are only as smart as we make them.''

We are talking in his upper Broadway ``Good Morning America'' office, a few hours after he went off the air for the day. He is relaxing in casual gray corduroy slacks and a striped short-sleeved sport shirt. His own company, Rodman-Downs Ltd., produced the special -- the same company that produced the widely acclaimed ``Birth and Babies'' special in 1974, which moved him out of dramatic series programming into the world of news and public affairs.

``Every expert I talked to said that electronics is part of our lives and it behooves everybody to learn at least a little about computers and how they work. They are not monsters. They are just a tool. Don't let them roll over you.''

Hartman has just returned from Alton, Ill., where he and his ``Good Morning America'' (GMA) crew chose four teen-agers and their families for a study of teen-age life today.

``Some of the statistics are frightening,'' he says. ``Did you know that 25 percent of teen-age kids today live in single-parent homes? They and their parents are really dealing with tough problems.''

He is excited about the fact that his morning show deals with such topics every day. ``I'm more enthusiastic about the show today than I was when I started it almost 10 years ago. What an opportunity . . . to dig into absolutely every subject of significance. What a responsibility.''

Hartman is proud that he has been what he calls a ``generalist'' all his life. ``My parents were enthusiastic about everything, and I guess I picked that up. I started studying music when I was 6, played lots of instruments, was conducting oratorio when I was 17, had an opportunity to be a professional athlete and decided against that. My formal education is a BA in economics, and I had almost finished my grad work in economics when I was called up for active duty in the Air Force, then worked with computers for several years. And finally, acted in series TV in `The Bold Ones' and `Lucas Tanner.' I've always had lots of things going at the same time. That certainly helps me do a better job on GMA. The real key is being curious about a lot of different things.''

Hartman feels he asks the same questions the average guy would ask . . . if the average guy were a bit more informed. ``I can't just sit there and say `Gee.' It's important to know what the answers might be ahead of time. Most of my work is preparation with the help of my staff. The shorter the interview, the longer the preparation.''

Sometimes accused of being a ``soft'' interviewer, Hartman doesn't have much respect for what is generally considered the ``tough'' interview. ``A really tough interview has to do with words, not with whether or not the interviewer sounds and looks tough. It's the quality of the information you get that really counts.''

On his way the next day to India to interview Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Hartman was also looking forward to meeting Mr. Gandhi's Italian wife. ``Maybe we can have her show us how to prepare her famous pasta,'' he laughs. ``We can do everything on GMA.''

He is very serious about his entertaining computer special, too. ``We want all those scaredy-cat people who are fearful of high-tech equipment to see this show and say to themselves: ``It's not so bad; if my kids can fool around with that stuff, maybe I can, too. That's all we wanted to do with the show.

``We didn't try to do it all in one hour. All we wanted to do was assure people that computers are just dumb machines.

``Kids are dealing with them better than adults because they have a new perspective. They aren't afraid because they don't have old attitudes to cope with.''

He says he is disturbed by the word from experts that there are many ``glitches'' in new computer equipment. ``The software doesn't work; the instructions aren't good. The experts told us that 90 percent of the software is in some way defective. And most of the people selling and servicing equipment are not really knowledgeable. The consumers are being ripped off.''

Do I hear the topic for the next ``info-tainment'' special by Mr. Hartman?

His eyes light up and ``Mr. Generalist'' seems to be planning a nongeneral, specialized show for the future. ``Why not?'' he asks himself. ``But first we'll have to see how this one does in the ratings.''

Meantime, ``easy'' interviewer David Hartman continues in his preparations to fly off to India to ask Rajiv Gandhi his own brand of ``tough'' questions.

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