Thursday, June 09, 2005

Early Computing's Long, Strange Trip

This looks like an interesting new book with a different slant ...

"Does history matter? No one would think of reading Shakespeare without learning enough of the historical context to understand the Bard's words. But does the history of science and technology matter in a similar way? Does knowing the first thing about the exotic megalomaniac Nikola Tesla make any difference at all to a young engineer plugging a computer into an alternating-current outlet (one of Tesla's inventions that we take for granted today)? After all, the AC outlet will work whether Tesla is remembered or not.

Let's focus the question more narrowly: Does the history of computers as we experience them—the history of the user-interface design, for instance—matter? I say yes. Like Shakespearean English, the computer is a tool that must be understood in depth to be deeply useful, and the richer the information about context, the richer the understanding.

It is nothing short of bizarre, then, that it has taken so long for a book to appear that chronicles the early cultural history of the personal computer. John Markoff's What the Dormouse Said (the title is taken from the lyrics of the Jefferson Airplane song "White Rabbit") tells the story of the important period when the personal computer and the Internet as we know them came into being. He also describes how a new culture of drugs, sex and rock and roll was created at the same time as the computers, sometimes in the same rooms, by some of the same people. Some readers may be shocked by the degree to which the design of modern computing was a central component of the 1960s counterculture in Northern California."   continued ...   (Via American Scientist)

What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer

Recommended Book

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