Computer history is boring — 7 years ago
Is computer history as important as political history? Is it as important to understand the details of the business battles between CPM and DOS as it is to understand Robert McNamara? No. Not even in the same league. Even though I am a computer geek by admission and by nature. I picked up this book because the premise sounded intriguing, the influence of the 60 cultural revolution on the computer business. The author contends that the rise of free love, individual freedoms, and rebellion against “the man” is the rich soil which allowed the idea of a personal computing device (PC) to be born. It may have been coincidental, but even after reading the book I don’t believe there is a causal relationship. So some of the early computer pioneers took LSD to expand their minds. Does that mean we should all do LSD now to create the next generation of technology? Or that the PC would not be around but for psytropic drugs?
In addition, the writing style is simply boring. Very factual and documentarian style. You can almost see the author bowing at the feet of the early computer pioneers and begging from some LSD. It is not a pretty sight. If the path of events are to be believed, I did learn much that I didn’t know about the 50,60,70’s computer pioneers. But he spends most of his time paying homage to the “forgotten” and “unappreciated” “pioneers”. Does it really matter? I turn on the PC and there is a wonderful world out there. It is a tool like any other that if I am smart enough I can get advantage of. The interface still doesn’t fit with many people. It was invented for geeks, by geeks and you can tell.
Only today, decades after the initial ideas started the PC going are we starting to see real useful, unique, new applications that are truly additive to our abilities and our brains. Until recently most software programming effort has been spent trying to make the computer do things that we used to do with adding machines, type writers and hoards of people. Ok, so now a newspaper can be laid out in an hour rather than a day with 10 people manually setting type. But what is the real invention there? What do you do with the extra time you save? Only now with some of the applications people are calling “web 2.0” are we getting really new, additive applicaitons. Those are the interesting things about computing and technology.
Not the furious battles between devotees of vacume tubes and silicon switches. That is old news and purely foundational. I would argue that the future of computing is interesting and not the past. If you have a bizzare fantasy for geek details that may help you in the next game of Trivial Pursuit “Geek Edition”, then read this book. Otherwise, whip out your browser or your blog tool and become part of the future.
I give this 2 of 5 stars (only for its historical value).