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Pervasive computing, ubiquitous computing, edge-of-the-network computing, things that think, wearable-context-sensitive computers, information appliances... these are all different faces of the accelerating tendency to specialize computers to specific functions, embed computers in every electrical device, and network them all altogether. Assuming Moore's Law continues to hold true and the long-awaited Great Quake does not drop California into the sea in the meantime, the world (or at least the Western world) of ten years from now is going to be vastly different place -- perhaps significantly more wealthy and comfortable, perhaps immensely more fragmented and scary.
Donald A. Norman is best known for a influential little volume called The Psychology of Everyday Things (later renamed The Design of Everyday Things). He has been an Apple Fellow, an executive at Hewlett-Packard, and a professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego. I've always admired Norman's work and I purchased his latest book, The Invisible Computer, with great anticipation. But I found it to be a disappointment on several levels.
One problem with The Invisible Computer is endemic to MIT Press books in general. Whether the Press is intimidated by their prestigious authors or simply lazy I cannot say, but if they subject manuscripts to any editing other than running them through a spelling checker, it certainly isn't evident. Consequently, if the author also happens to be an excellent self-editor, you can end up with a consistent, cohesive book; if not, not. A glaring example can be found in The Invisible Computer on pages 32, 33, and 35, where the same graphs are essentially duplicated for no obvious reason. This book should have been drastically tightened up by a skilled manuscript editor; instead, it rambles, repeats itself, and even contradicts itself.
Another aspect of the book that I found rather annoying was Norman's tendency to present some dubious assertion or other as concrete fact, and then build a logic house of cards on top of it. His idealization of Navy command structure is one case in point, and here's another (from page 131):
More and more business travelers are refusing to take their computers or cellular phones. And even when they do carry them, they restrict their usage, so that cellular phones are usually turned off, and computers are used only sparingly.
After reading that paragraph, I could only shake my head and wonder exactly what planet Dr. Norman is living on these days.
But the most important weakness of The Invisible Computer could be summed up as "it's easier to be a critic than a visionary." Norman is quite good at dissecting other people's user interface mistakes. Much of the book, in fact, revisits territory he has covered many times before ("Why is everything so difficult to use?"). But he's on shakier ground with a rapidly-evolving area like information appliances, where he comes across as a pendantic bystander. While he's spinning fine-sounding theories about "human-centered development" and the optimal structure of product teams, the industry is going its own way at a break-neck pace.
For a more compelling, engaging view of this topic, I recommend you seek out the writings of active researchers such as Pattie Maes or Neil Gershenfeld. For a peek at the near future, I recommend the science fiction (now seeming more like science prophecy) books of Bruce Sterling, Vernor Vinge, Neil Stephenson, and William Gibson, starting with Sterling's Islands in the Net.
— Electronic Review of Computer Books