The title of Eileen Gunn's story “Computer Friendly” is highly ironic, for the computers in the story are not friendly at all. In fact, they are used as tools of control and oppression. In the world of the story, all human beings are plugged directly into a vast computer system...
through their minds. This computerized world leads to social isolation, for people are discouraged from spending time together.
The computer separates people, classifying them according to their abilities. The protagonist, Elizabeth, is taking a series of tests to determine where she is to be placed. Those who do not perform well on the tests actually risk euthanasia, as is the case with Elizabeth's new friend Sheena, who might have to go to the “Asia Center” and be put to sleep if she does not improve her performance and show herself to be valuable to the system (i.e., the computer-controlled society).
Further, Elizabeth's own mother is actually not with her family. Because of her job, she is only a brain without a body, actually living inside of a computer. Even Elizabeth's dog is wired into the computer and used for the purpose of data direction. Elizabeth also learns that she may have had siblings, but if so, they have been euthanized at some point.
As the story continues, Elizabeth must enter into the system to try to save her friends, and she meets with many challenges and failures as she battles the computer to assert the value of human life for its own sake. Yet she must rely on another computer program, the ancient Norton, for help if she ever wants to fix her world.