- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
It's hard to imagine anyone better qualified to chronicle the computing and Internet revolution than James Gleick, who first came to wide public attention as the author of Chaos.
That's not just a cheap pun: Chaos theory sought to understand the "jagged edges and sudden leaps" that appear throughout nature, transforming systems from orderly linear growth to apparent madness. Kind of like what happened with PCs and the Web. Gleick actually founded and ran one of the earliest Internet service providers, before returning to journalism and writing the bulk of the essays collected here in What Just Happened. What better qualifications could you ask for?
Gleick ranged far and wide during the '90s and '00s: AT&T Bell Labs in 1993, where he thought he'd find the coming network revolution (that's where it had always happened before); Microsoft's Redmond campus in 1992 for a preview of Word 2.0 (which proved just as buggy as the 1.0 version he'd become obsessed with); Silicon Valley; and all over the Internet (chronicling the arrival of such phenomena as forwarded email jokes and eBay auctions). Some of it almost seems like fantasy now, if not for the fact that we've just lived through it. (Remember when a reporter scarfed up the mcdonalds.com domain, and what McDonald's had to do to gain custody?)
As with any revolution, even the smartest "micro-level" expectations often prove wrong. (Apple's Newton is best remembered as the butt of "Doonesbury" jokes; cable companies never became telephone providers en masse, and interactive CD-ROM developers never repaid their venture capitalists.) But Gleick has shown an uncanny ability to put his finger on the megastuff that really matters: from the impact of cellphones on human relationships to the collisions between fair-use rights and copyright owners, privacy advocates and the government, Microsoft and the world. On the whole, these essays hold up remarkably well, and even where they don't, they're a remarkable snapshot of times that won't soon return. (Bill Camarda)