Being Digital
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2000
Being Digital introduces the reader to a world that may not be too familiar. The Information Superhighway is a vast array of collections of data and could easily trip up a first time user. Nicholas Negroponte begins by giving the reader some background information starting with the development of CD ROM drives. Negroponte enhances the read by making the language easy to understand and clear. What I gained from reading this book is a perspective once thought to be held only by the "Tech Freeks." Negrooponte points out the pluses as well as some minuses when dealing with this new technology. Bandwidth, HDTV, and the Internet in general are more clearly understood after reading Being Digital. Published in 1995, Being Digital was released at the emergence of an e-society so much of the information is old and known by now, but Negroponte is someone to listen to; co-founder of the MIT Media Lab. Being Digital allows the reader to truly understand the power of a bit in today's world.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2000
Nicholas Negroponte knows that many people fear technology and refuse to understand it. He also knows that technological advances are inevitable. One day, computers, bytes, and bits will be a part of almost everything we do. Being Digital is a simplistic explanation of the history of data communications, the present use of computers and how we interact with them, and what may be in store for us in the future.
Throughout this book, Negroponte emphasizes that there is a difference between bits and atoms and there will always be that distinction. It is made clear that bits of data will not feed the hungry, but can provide a means for millions of people to discuss world hunger and try to resolve it. He attempts to calm the fear that computers will rule our lives. He merely views computers as advancing communications between humans, not a replacement for us.
Many issues are addressed in Being Digital. Although published in 1995, many of these issues still pertain to us today. It sounds funny, but 5 years in a digital age is like 20 years in real life. Technology has come a long way in 5 years and Negroponte predicted it all. He addressed the laws of the Internet, Netiquette, privacy issues, encryption, and even the notion that all media on the Internet will be made for the individual, not the mass population. We see this today where sites have a personal start page like My Yahoo! and My Netscape. You learn what you want to know.
Negroponte made a wonderful attempt to explain the workings of the Internet without getting too technical. He made several comparisons to situations most people can relate to like describing bandwidth as lanes on a highway. With ease, he explained how HDTV, digital cable, and multimedia work while teaching the reader all the cool lingo and acronyms associated with each.
I found Being Digital to be very simple to read and insightful. Anyone who is computer illiterate or afraid of technology, will find this book to be entertaining and informative about the world around us. For those of us who dive into a computer daily and get lost in the digital world and dream of innovations to come, Negroponte teases our minds and predicts the future with the use of computers in cars, appliances, and their capabilities to communicate to one another to insure a comfortable lifestyle.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Or should I say "Negroponte rules!"
For those who don't know who he is, we're talking about the man who has spearheaded the efforts to make out of MIT's Media Lab one of the state-of-the-art technology workshops of the world. What those guys are working there is what you and I might own or work with (as a gadget, for instance) in a few years, depending on your wlak of life. These guys are light-years ahead of us. And Negroponte is even ahead of them!
If you were a follower of Negroponte's last-page articles in Wired magazine for several years, you might not find the book all that new, but even then, you will have to acknowledge that he has a unique and very intuitive way to explain digital technology to people who are not tech savvy. He reminds me at times of Nobel-prize winner Richard Feynman in that sense.
Anyway... Think of this book, whether you are a techie or not, as a statement written five years ago about what's to come. Some of the things he refers to in the book have already occurred, which makes it even more exciting: it means that he's right, and those things that have yet to come will definitely be part of our lives sooner that we can maybe imagine.
Buy it and you will devour it in a day, I predict!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2000
As old as this book is (35, in internet years), it is still visionary. Lucid, interesting, lively reading. Conversational. I'm not in an e-commerce company but I want to understand something of the changes ahead as we move to an information-based economy. If that's you, too, read this book, along with Berners-Lee's Weaving the Web; then read Evans and Wurster's Blown to Bits and (maybe) Kelly's New Rules for the New Economy, and you will have a bunch of new ideas, I promise.
I wish I'd read this book when it first came out.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2000
What is Digital? Is it merely as simple as the "information superhighway?" Or, is it a complex web of intermingled electronics destined to replace everything home, hearth and workplace?
In this, the Technology Age, one is lead to believe it's either get on the bandwidth-to modify the phrase--or die a slow, excruciating information death, like a victim of Civil War Gangrene.
Negroponte takes all us pseudo-techies, the ones who are too ashamed to admit they just don't quite get `it', and guides us down the path of digital history. As a founder of MIT's Media Lab, a place where technology is studied for fun and academics, Negroponte is certainly qualified to discuss such things. He does so comfortably and simply, explaining digital technology in a concise and entertaining manner. The format is precise, the prose is easy-to-read. This is a man one could truly envision enjoying a cup of microwaved coffee with.
Negroponte explains technological history and its implications on society in basic terms that any literate luddite could process. The premise is based in a clever analogy: Atoms (the real, tangible items we see, touch, use each day) vs. Bits (it's the packets of information stupid!). Atoms are the tangible stuff that comprise everything physical; bottled water, books, computers. Bits are the invisibly-invisible minute pieces of information upon which much of modern society relies; credit as we swipe our bankcard at the grocery; on-demand instant information via the web; e-mail rather than antiquated parchment air-mail letters.
Understanding the digital phenomenon is easy with Negroponte. The chapters are almost flashcard/sound bite like. A brief introduction is followed by sub-sections that explain the technical stuff and offer familiar real-life comparisons. The chapter on bandwidth (that same bandwidth everyone seems to be bent on increasing these days) gives an account of what bandwidth means; its potential (more TV channels fer g'dsake!), and its complications (if government rations out bandwidth to a few big-media conglomerates, public access will be restricted and we'll have to pay more for those channels). Negroponte also discusses some failures in the digital age, HDTV for one. His thesis? HDTV? Been there, seen it, done it, forget it! Give me Digital-it's clearer, faster, and it's interactive.
The book is filled with visceral descriptions that relate technology to real life. Examples such as driving 160 KMP per hour are compared to faxing at 1.2 mbps (millions of bits per second). This is how fast we can and should want to be transferring those bits back and forth to each other.
Negroponte foresees potential benefits for citizens of a digital society. In the on-demand digitized marketplace, customers are still real people but their merchants become the computer. Thus, each of us has the potential to request what we want, (a TV program or an airline ticket) when we want it, where we want it, and at the price we want to pay. Think pay-per-view and priceline.com.
We will also have the capability of becoming more intelligent and time proficient thanks to pc browsers capable of knowing what we want on screen-even before we demand it. One need only look at the recent ads for etour.com, "surf without searching." (You register, get profiled, and are instantly delivered websites matching your interests).
However, some criticized Negroponte as being too optimistic. Technology that can recognize our eyeprint? Who cares? And then there's the popular fear of Internet addiction and the thought that all this info-on-demand will create generations of solitary, mouse-clicking, chip-crunching moles. Negroponte believes rather than become isolated, technology and computers connect us to cultures, people and ideas previously inaccessible to the average person--even if we have been sitting alone at the computer screen for three days running.
Some of Negroponte's scenarios may have seemed fantastical in 1995, but we truly have come to see many of his visions as day-to-day reality-cars with satellite navigation systems, recordable CDs, `intelligent interfacers' (our personalized browsers). Rather than go west young man, we should be cheering Be Digital! Thanks to Negroponte, we know why.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Being Digital was written by an author and professor of MIT, Mr. Nicholas Nigroponte. The general theme of this particular book is the technology in the year of its publication (1995), and the authors thoughts and opinions of where technology was headed at that time. Much of what the author felt he would not live to see, however, has already emerged, and in most cases far surpassed, today in 1999. The introduction begins with an explanation of some of Professor Nigroponte's basic views of the computer-persuaded world. One of his main ideas is that living digitally (via the internet or television) can be more cost efficient than living animatedly. His illustration of this was the use of textbooks in schools and colleges. When one purchases a textbook for $90, much of the cost ensued is in the printing, shipping, warehousing, and resale of the particular book. If this text was available by way of the internet, these costs would no longer exist. The key point to his textbook example is that a digital book would never go out of print. It could be change at any point and at no additional cost. It could be argued that the cost of owning a computer is considerably more than the $90 theoretical textbook. This argument is easily countered, however, illustrating the fact that not all books will ever again be used following semester's end. Computers can also better process the understanding of the material using sight and sound interaction. When Being Digital was written, Professor Negroponte felt that the processing speed of a modem transmitting and receiving data at 9,600 BPS was exceptionally fast. Today we have become accustomed to nothing less that a 56,600 BPS telephone modem. Another point Negroponte made was that some day we will have a choice of how we would like to connect to the internet, for example, a phone line versus coaxial cable or fiber optic cable. Now, four years later, we see the new mass-market use of fiber optic technology in bi-directional cable modems. One final point of interest is Negroponte's views on about television's emerging technological advances. He feels that we will soon posses the capability to rent a movie from within our homes without ever leaving. He feels that society will be able to decide what they would like to see, phone in a request, and have it instantly sent to their households without the inconvenience of returning the movie. This technology is commonplace today, referred casually as pay-per-view. Many of Professor Negroponte's already post dated points give us a clear idea of just how quickly technology is changing and progressing. Being Digital was very interesting to read considering it was written in 1995, merely four years prior to what we know commonly today. Comparing what Nicholas Negroponte felt would be the "next best creation" with what we now feel is old news every three or four months really puts the speed of the progression into perspective.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2000
I know, the title sounds so serious. But despite the fact that Being Digital was published and written five years ago does not lower its relevancy to the year 2000-and forward. Negroponte does a wonderful job on describing in recognizable and easy to understand language, the influence that computers, the internet, and digital media has been having over our lives...and how it will continue to grow.
There is almost a cynical touch to this book that certainly adds to its validity. Many people, (including me, when I can't get something to work) are fearful of technology and the rate at which it is growing. It is somewhat disquieting to see people spending thousands of dollars on a computer that will be obsolete in two years.
The quick synopsis on the back of this book begins with: "The book you are holding is probably obsolete: it consists of atoms, which are bulky and cumbersome to transport. And, increasingly, the dominant unit of human interaction are bits." Being Digital introduces the reader into the digital world-where bits (1's and 0's strung together) are hitting mainstream.
Bits are computer DNA, basically. Having a digital source (such as an mp3 or DVD) means that you can make perfect, exact copies of the strings of 1's and 0's on it. Thus, it is also an extremely high quality bit of media. (no pun intended, hehe) As more and more things are being transferred to bits-something I am just as guilty of as anyone else-it is becoming less and less important to actually have a physical (analog?) copy. For instance, since mp3s made their debut, many people have found no need for buying the CD-I mean, why? When you can download a perfectly equal copy, for free, no less, and either burn it to a CD, or put it on an mp3 player, or hell, even keep it in your hard drive.
The only (slight) problem with this book is the fact that it has been around for so long-well, a long time in technology standards. Published in 1995, it still remains relevant for us to explore where technology is taking us.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2000
I find myself to be a bit of a history person. Not for a major, but for fun. Although I was quit familiar with HDTV and its development in Japan and within the United States, I found many interesting facts that guided my understand of the history of the technologies of the internet and now included a better understanding of how they worked. Negroponte, has undoubtedly given a hard technical language easy to understand terms. With easy to understand illustrations, in comparing data backup to digital gridlock on a highway, and down to earth comments that one can easily grasp no matter the computer skills involved. He has done the amazing task of detothing the digital tiger.
His book sends us through history, to the beginning of communication and guides us on a journey through the digital world. From black-and-white television to HDTV, from CD-ROM to the use of bandwidth, and how even that word can change its meaning. Negroponte takes the fear of using the Internet away and makes its' use like charting a calm lake. The book has obvious signs of its age, but where it would supposedly drop off, for the time in which it was written, Negroponte takes giant steps forward in telling and accurately predicting the directions in which the Internet would go. His insights on e-commerce, encryption codes and daily uses and services that a connected world can offer were amazingly insightful. From a world were driving directions are but a click away, where your refrigerator calls for service before it brakes and operating systems that cater to your every need.
Being Digital was an easy to read book that allowed me to grasp the basics, and harder parts of the Internet that in a lot of ways, previously confused me. I feel that I have gained a more technical background, and won't have that confused look on my face the next time on Jeopardy when a question related to the Internet is asked.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 1998
You're approaching the new millennium, what people are calling the digital age. You are terribly anxious, utterly ignorant. But, somewhere in the air full of technobabble, you also catch the unmistakable whiff of excitement. The excitement of a new state of being.
Nicholas Negroponte's book, Being Digital, fuels that excitement, dispels your ignorance and stills your nervousness, as it unravels, explains and rationalises the digital dimension to modern life. An essential item in the baggage of anyone about to travel the information super-highway, Being Digital is not intimidating, as the future it talks about may seem to some, but exciting, like that very future will be for all.
Beginning with the difference between an atom and a bit, and going on to the far reaches of futuristic multimedia, Negroponte takes you by the hand and makes you understand, appreciate and want to be a part of the inevitable era of the digital. He talks of the change from atoms to bits as being "irrevocable", and "unstoppable", and of a time when information will be "universally accessible." He gushes about your right and left cufflinks or earrings communicating with each other by "low orbiting satellites..." He sees schools changing to "become more like museums and playgrounds for children to assemble ideas and socialize..."
And yet, he stops to introspect on the irony of his book itself being rendered in atoms, and not bits. "So why an old-fashioned book, Negroponte...?" Revealing the basic asceticism that lies at the core of every techno-savant like himself, Negroponte confesses, "Interactive multi-media leaves very little to the imagination...When you read a novel, much of the colour, sound and motion come from you."
In another discussion about fiber versus copper and the future of bandwidth, a concern we all share about being digital, Negroponte asks, "Do we really want or need all those bits?" "New information and entertainment ser! vices are not waiting on fiber to the home; they are waiting on imagination." A welcome assurance that the digital age will still be driven by the power of the human being, that the application will drive the technology, that "being digital" won't mean "not being human".
Negroponte's depth of perception and easy-going style make Being Digital an immensely readable book, a book you are expected to "read yourself into". Prophetic enunciations mingle with child-like flights of fancy (are the two that much different anyway?), difficult theory is made light of with daily ditties, and techno-jargon is the brunt of some intelligent humour ("If prizes were awarded for the best oxymorons, virtual reality would certainly be a winner.").
Among the many predictions that punctuate the book (" I think of myself as an extremist when it comes to predicting and initiating change") Negroponte's statement "In a digital age, the medium is no longer the message" could well be considered the next milestone comment after McLuhan's. "He calls it commingling of bits, where you can experience your newspaper as sound, text and picture too, depending on the way you want it. And what's more, you could even choose your stories, because control will be transferred from the provider to the receiver. "Being digital will change the nature of mass media from a process of pushing bits at people to one of allowing people...to pull at them.)" Though it is devoid of illustrations throughout its 255 pages, Being Digital paints a picture. An indelible, and prophetic picture.
Negroponte has interesting names for his chapters, which nudge you to read on, assured that you will not be bored with technology, but entertained by a scientist who is at once submerged by his subject and detached from it. In one such chapter, called " Place without space", he foresees the post -information age as an age when you could look out of the window in Boston and "! ;see the Alps, hear the cowbells and smell the digital manure...". You could also go to work without going to work, and remote controlled surgeries could be a reality (read virtual reality). While Being Digital definitely forebodes the fantastic, it retains a sense of realism, constantly distinguishing between the near term and the longer term. "In the nearer term, however, the brain surgeon will need to be in the same operating theater as the brain..."
It is also aware of the pitfalls of the age it celebrates. In the chapter "Being digital is not enough", Negroponte says, "In the next millennium...we will all be using e-mail, provided we learn some digital decorum" - a stinging summation of the as yet uncivilised online community? Negroponte also likens the Internet to an Austrian ballroom where almost every one of the 400 guests has just learned how to dance!
Being Digital is all about accepting the inevitable. Being optimistic about parts of it, and bemoaning others -"The next decade will see cases of intellectual property abuse and invasion of privacy. We will experience digital vandalism,...data thievery." Negroponte's view is that the inevitable is not imminent. It is now. "My optimism is not fueled by an anticipated invention...".
For him a state of being digital is almost genetic, and like all things genetic will proliferate, from generation to generation.
This is an important book. Cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary, and humanistic in its appeal, it will be found, if it's not already, on the bookshelves of the digerati (definitely), people in the media, businesses, arts, academia, government and also, strangely, among the rumpled bedclothes of the incurable joystick junkie. Such is the power of prophecy, and simplicity.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2000
Reading the book Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte was interesting in the aspect that the book is five years old in such a fast moving industry and the book is still relevant today. Five years in the computer world may be compared to forty years in other industries. Negroponte mentions the past (atoms) and how he feels computers will take society into the future (bits). The past is being the industrial revolution and the future being the information age. As the industrial revolution changed the direction of society, the information age will change society on the same kind of scale. Possibly someday everything will be automated, all you will have to do is talk to the computer, microwave, and toaster. Past, present, and future computer technologies were discussed throughout the book. Related markets of television with the advancements with High Definition Television (HDTV), and the video industry were discussed with possible idea of where that is going. The book was full with information but seemed to be very boring. I would find myself reading a page and thinking about something else, then having to re-read the page. The book basically analyzes where we have been with computer technology and where it could possibly go. I recommend this book to people who know nothing about the past, present, and future of the computer world and to people having trouble falling to sleep at night.
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