NOTES: I don't know about you, but I'm dealing with thousands of virus-ridden e-mails each day. Until this mess is cleared up, I'm pretty much deleting everything from people I don't recognize unless the subject line of the message is clearly responding to something I've written. So if you want to write to me, please use a highly specific subject line.
Also, the web pages are up now for my book, Net Effects: How Librarians Can Manage the Unintended Consequences of the Internet, at http://marylaine.com/book/index.html. The official date for publication is September 2. Remember, if anybody wants an autographed copy, e-mail me and I'll tell you how you can get the message you want inscribed, on a paste-in-able slip of paper with my caricature on it.
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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FUTURE: THE ORIGINS OF THE INTERNET: A REVIEW
John Naughton. London: Phoenix, 2000, 075381093X. [this may be the same as an American publication, A brief history of the future : from radio days to Internet years in a lifetime, by John Naughton published by Overlook Press, ISBN: 1585670324].
Reviewed by Jonathan Crowhurst, who works for a leading City of London law firm, and previously worked in market research and for the insurance industry. He will be going to City University in London to read an MA in Library and Information Studies at the end of September.
"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants" - Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727), Letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675
This quote from Newton I think for me best sums up the evolution and history of the internet and the World Wide Web. This is made perfectly clear in this fascinating book by John Naughton, Professor for the Public Understanding of Technology at the UK's Open University (also a journalist and writer).
Naughton's book begins by describing how he became fascinated by the world wide web as a medium of communication, following a childhood fascination with radios, which at the time of his growing up in rural Ireland was one of the main means of mass communication. Today the internet, and the world wide web in particular, is so ubiquitous that few people outside the IT industry and the information profession realise the long and protracted gestation of this wonderful new way of bringing people together, and new ideas to the world. All the media such as email, the web itself, chat technology and now digital media such as MP3 would not exist without the internet. Their existence would not be possible without the internet to get them to the users.
I have read a number of books on the development of the internet, such as the book by Tim Berners Lee's Weaving The Web, on how he came to develop the world wide web as a means of viewing internet content. After all, let us not forget that the world wide web is a comparatively recent innovation when looked at in the whole context of the history of the internet itself. This book reveals just how much earlier than the web the birth of the internet was, and how its birth was very nearly aborted.
Most people are vaguely aware of the ARPANET, the precursor to the internet and web as we know it, and how the internet started of as a communication network designed to survive a nuclear exchange, which was a real possibility in the 1960s when the early proposals for this network were made. Naughton covers all of this in great detail and goes back further to the development of ideas such as packet switching, developed by Donald Watts Davies, and much later Ray Tomlinson's idea of email.
Geniuses like JCR Lickleider, Norbert Wiener and Vannevar Bush, just three of the prime movers and shakers in getting the early network off the ground, through the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (recently in the news for setting up a betting scheme based on the likelihood of terrorist activity). Hallowed institutions like MIT and CalTech, are given due credit for their work which made the internet possible.
Naughton takes us through the early days of web browsing, Bulletin Board Systems and the explosion of the internet from an academic curiosity to essential business communication tool to the genuinely world wide web of today.
In the early days academics thought non scientific use of the net frivolous in the extreme, not perhaps as snobbish an attitude as one might think considering the huge cost of computing power before desk top PCs came on the market. The computers powering early NASA work, and indeed much engineering and scientific research needed entire rooms for the same amount of power which is now available on the average PDA.
Although Naughton approaches the subject with an almost child like fascination, his lucid and friendly story telling style quickly draws the reader into the internet's history without making the hard science and engineering behind it, well, hard. Neither is he blind to some of the perils the internet (or more properly its users) has created, such as pornography and intellectual copyright theft, and he gives a balanced treatment of these issues.
All in all, this book is a "must read" for students of the internet and communications technology and for information professionals. After all, it's useful to understand how the internet has revolutionized the lives (for good or ill) of librarians and indeed the general public seeking after knowledge.
The book also includes ideas for further reading and extensive footnotes, some of which can be obtained online. Where this is the case the web sites are indicated so you can go back to the primary source data Naughton refers to.
So, going back to my initial quote, the development of the internet is indeed a case of "standing on the shoulders of giants" - serendipity, circumstance and coincidence innovations, inventions and government policy and the blinding intellects of a small band of truly pioneering folk - collided to make the internet and all the communications and multimedia applications built thereon possible, without which the average desk top computer would just be an ugly lump of plastic useful only as a hideously expensive typewriter.
John Naughton has his own page on the internet where more information on this book and his other work, and the man himself, can be found at http://molly.open.ac.uk/.
Jonathan Crowhurst was one of the first to take me up on my request that my readers submit articles or book reviews for ExLibris. The offer is still open.If you have an idea for an article, please send me an e-mail.
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...the existence of Googleholes suggests an important caveat to the Google-as-oracle rhetoric: Google may be the closest thing going to a vision of the "group mind," but that mind is shaped by the interests and habits of the people who create hypertext links. A group mind decides that Apple Computer is more relevant than the apples that you eat, but that group doesn't speak for everybody. We're wrong to think of Google as a pure reference source. It's closer to a collectively authored op-ed page—filled with bias, polemics, and a skewed sense of proportion—than an encyclopedia. It's still the connected world's most dazzling place to visit, a perfect condensation of the Web's wider anarchy. Just don't call it an oracle.
Steven Johnson. "Digging for Googleholes." Slate, July 16, 2003, http://slate.msn.com/id/2085668/
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Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999-2003.
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