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Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion Hardcover – June 16, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0137135592 ISBN-10: 0137135599 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; 1 edition (June 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0137135599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0137135592
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.5 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #330,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

“If you want to understand the future before it happens, you'll love this book. If you want to change the future before it happens to you, this book is required reading.”

-Reed Hundt, former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission

 

“There is no simpler or clearer statement of the radical change that digital technologies will bring, nor any book that better prepares one for thinking about the next steps.”

-LawrenceLessig, Stanford Law School and Author ofCode and Other Laws of Cyberspace

 

Blown to Bitswill blow you away. In highly accessible and always fun prose, it explores all the nooks and crannies of the digital universe, exploring not only how this exploding space works but also what it means.”

-Debora Spar, President of Barnard College, Author ofRuling the WavesandThe Baby Business

 

“This is a wonderful book-probably the best since Hal Varian and Carl Schultz wroteDigital Rules. The authors are engineers, not economists. The result is a long, friendly talk with the genie, out of the lamp, and willing to help you avoid making the traditional mistake with that all-important third wish.”

-David Warsh, Author ofKnowledge and the Wealth of Nations

 

Blown to Bitsis one of the clearest expositions I've seen of the social and political issues arising from the Internet. Its remarkably clear explanations of how the Net actually works lets the hot air out of some seemingly endless debates. You've made explaining this stuff look easy. Congratulations!”

-David Weinberger, Coauthor ofThe Cluetrain Manifestoand Author ofEverything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder.

 

Blown to Bitsis a timely, important, and very readable take on how information is produced and consumed today, and more important, on the approaching sea change in the way that we as a society deal with the consequences.”

-Craig Silverstein, Director of Technology, Google, Inc.

 

“This book gives an overview of the kinds of issues confronting society as we become increasingly dependent on the Internet and the World Wide Web. Every informed citizen should read this book and then form their own opinion on these and related issues. And after reading this book you will rethink how (and even whether) you use the Web to form your opinions…”

-James S. Miller, Senior Director for Technology Policy and Strategy, Microsoft Corporation

 

“Most writing about the digital world comes from techies writing about technical matter for other techies or from pundits whose turn of phrase greatly exceeds their technical knowledge. InBlown to Bits, experts in computer science address authoritatively the practical issues in which we all have keen interest.”

-Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Author ofMultiple IntelligencesandChanging Minds

 

“Regardless of your experience with computers,Blown to Bitsprovides a uniquely entertaining and informative perspective from the computing industry's greatest minds.

A fascinating, insightful and entertaining book that helps you understand computers and their impact on the world in a whole new way.

This is a rare book that explains the impact of the digital explosion in a way that everyone can understand and, at the same time, challenges experts to think in new ways.”

-Anne Margulies, Assistant Secretary for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

 

Blown to Bitsis fun and fundamental. What a pleasure to see real teachers offering such excellent framework for students in a digital age to explore and understand their digital environment, code and law, starting with the insight of Claude Shannon. I look forward to you teaching in an open online school.”

-Professor Charles Nesson, Harvard Law School, Founder, Berkman Center for Internet and Society

 

“To many of us, computers and the Internet are magic. We make stuff, send stuff, receive stuff, and buy stuff. It's all pointing, clicking, copying, and pasting. But it's all mysterious. This book explains in clear and comprehensive terms how all this gear on my desk works and why we should pay close attention to these revolutionary changes in our lives. It's a brilliant and necessary work for consumers, citizens, and students of all ages.”

-Siva Vaidhyanathan,cultural historian and media scholar at the University of Virginia and author ofCopyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity

 

“The world has turned into the proverbial elephant and we the blind men. The old and the young among us risk being controlled by, rather than in control of, events and technologies.Blown to Bitsis a remarkable and essential Rosetta Stone for beginning to figure out how all of the pieces of the new world we have just begun to enter-law, technology, culture, information-are going to fit together. Will life explode with new possibilities, or contract under pressure of new horrors? The precipice is both exhilarating and frightening. Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis, together, have ably managed to describe the elephant. Readers of this compact book describing the beginning stages of a vast human adventure will be one jump ahead, for they will have a framework on which to hang new pieces that will continue to appear with remarkable speed. To say that this is a ‘must read' sounds trite, but, this time, it's absolutely true.”

-Harvey Silverglate, criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer and writer

 

Every day, billions of photographs, news stories, songs, X-rays, TV shows, phone calls, and emails are being scattered around the world as sequences of zeroes and ones: bits. We can't escape this explosion of digital information and few of us want to-the benefits are too seductive. The technology has enabled unprecedented innovation, collaboration, entertainment, and democratic participation.

 

But the same engineering marvels are shattering centuries-old assumptions about privacy, identity, free expression, and personal control as more and more details of our lives are captured as digital data.

 

Can you control who sees all that personal information about you? Can email be truly confidential, when nothing seems to be private? Shouldn't the Internet be censored the way radio and TV are? Is it really a federal crime to download music? When you use Google or Yahoo! to search for something, how do they decide which sites to show you? Do you still have free speech in the digital world? Do you have a voice in shaping government or corporate policies about any of this?

 

Blown to Bitsoffers provocative answers to these questions and tells intriguing real-life stories. This book is a wake-up call to the human consequences of the digital explosion.

 

Preface xiii

 

Chapter 1: Digital Explosion: Why Is It Happening, and What Is at Stake? 1

Chapter 2: Naked in the Sunlight: Privacy Lost, Privacy Abandoned 19

Chapter 3: Ghosts in the Machine: Secrets and Surprises of Electronic Documents 73

Chapter 4: Needles in the Haystack: Google and Other Brokers in the Bits Bazaar 109

Chapter 5: Secret Bits: How Codes Became Unbreakable 161

Chapter 6: Balance Toppled: Who Owns the Bits? 195

Chapter 7: You Can't Say That on the Internet: Guarding the Frontiers of Digital Expression 229

Chapter 8: Bits in the Air: Old Metaphors, New Technologies, and Free Speech 259

 

Conclusion: After the Explosion 295

Appendix: The Internet as System and Spirit 301

Endnotes 317

Index 347

 

 

About the Author

 

Hal Abelson is Class of 1922 Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, and an IEEE Fellow. He has helped drive innovative educational technology initiatives such MIT OpenCourseWare, cofounded Creative Commons and Public Knowledge, and was founding director of the Free Software Foundation. Ken Ledeen, Chairman/CEO of Nevo Technologies, has served on the boards of numerous technology companies. Harry Lewis, former Dean of Harvard College, is Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at Harvard. He is author of Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future? Together, the authors teach Quantitative Reasoning 48, an innovative Harvard course on information for non-technical, non-mathematically oriented students.

 


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Customer Reviews

While fact dense, it is very easy to read and understand.
Joel M. Kauffman
We leave bits about our lives and habits every time we use the internet and every time we use a CC card or debit card and even our phones.
EMBLA
This book is about the explosion and expansion of computers in the digital age.
Frank Grimes

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bdem on July 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is perfect for people who want to understand more about information technology and don't want to read something long or technical to learn it. The authors do a superb job taking the reader through how major technologies function (computers, the internet, cell phones, etc.), how they are shaping our lives, and what impacts they have on our laws and society. Amazing stories are woven throughout it, making it readable and fun for techies and non-techies alike. At the end of the book, you'll have a new understanding of the things we take for granted - and what possibilities and threats they pose. You'll also be light years ahead of most other people - who themselves will need to come up to speed in the coming years. A great read!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John Doench on July 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books that will change the way you look at the world, or at least, your computer (which, as you'll learn, might be a lot more of the world than you think!) In a very readable prose, the authors explain how the world is fundamentally different now that so much information -- so many bits -- is being generated, monitored, and stored about nearly everything we do. The book covers not just how the internet actually works but also weaves together many applicable examples from the worlds of commerce, entertainment, government, and law.

It is one of those books that will cause you to share what you just read with whomever happens to be in the room, as it is filled with many gee-whiz moments. A great read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By R. Lodato on September 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Few people would deny that the world has changed significantly since the explosion of the Internet. Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis have written an intriguing analysis of many of the issues that have erupted due to the ubiquity of digital data, not only on the Internet but elsewhere. Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion, published by Addison-Wesley, digs into many of the ramifications of making so much information available to the world at large. As I read through the book, I was alternately fascinated and horrified at what information is available, and how it is being used and abused.

While the subject matter is primarily about a technology that many people may still not comprehend, the book is written at a level permitting most people to understand how it affects them. There is sufficient tutorial information on how the Internet functions to allow all to follow the reasoning. For those more web-savvy, there are many references to web sites illustrating the authors' points. The reader is encouraged to check them out as you go. While there is a natural flow from one chapter to the next, each one is sufficiently encapsulated so that you can read chapters in any order you like.

Blown to Bits is a fascinating read which will get you thinking about how technology is changing our lives, for better and for worse. Each chapter will alternatively interest you and leave you appalled (and perhaps a little frightened). You will be given the insight to protect yourself a little better, and it provides background for intelligent discussions about the legalities that impact our use of technology.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joel M. Kauffman on March 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This collaboration between a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at M. I. T., the Chairman/CEO of Nevo Technologies and a Professor of Computer Science at Harvard U. is a broad overview of the internet. While fact dense, it is very easy to read and understand. Even though I have used computers since 1970 or so, and a desktop since 1984, and the internet since 1995, most of the details were new to me.

Starting backwards, a fine Appendix explains how the internet works, and how brilliantly it was engineered for international compatibility by broad agreement and with no governing body, for indefinite expansion in the future, and for robustness in delivering packets of data of all kinds around any damaged area with perfect accuracy. (I recalled that this last was part of a military requirement from over 30 years ago.) Near the end of the book, the history of telegraph, telephone, radio and television was given to show how some regulation was essential to avoid overload and overlap of messages, and control of content. From the beginning of the book, the difference between the internet and any of these old models was elaborated.

In case you are worried about being overwhelmed, fear not. The technicals are easy to understand and require no math ability. Well-drawn diagrams, photos and reproductions of web pages abound. There is a good index. Many references are given at the back by page number, which I normally regard as a cop-out, but here the exact phrase on a page for which the citation is backup is given. Many URLs for websites are given that looked useful and were new to me.

So from the beginning of the book the various impacts of the internet are explained. The magnitude of the messages sent and web pages available was shown to be staggering.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Chris Gates on November 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The authors of Blow to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion cover both new and old technologies and how they relate to todays cultural and political climates. Driving home the history of most of the technologies we can't live without and their tumultuous relationship with the legislative and judicial branches of the American government.

Breakdown of the chapters:

Chapter 1: Digital Explosion: Why Is It Happening, and What Is at Stake? 1
Chapter 2: Naked in the Sunlight: Privacy Lost, Privacy Abandoned 19
Chapter 3: Ghosts in the Machine: Secrets and Surprises of Electronic Documents 73
Chapter 4: Needles in the Haystack: Google and Other Brokers in the Bits Bazaar 109
Chapter 5: Secret Bits: How Codes Became Unbreakable 161
Chapter 6: Balance Toppled: Who Owns the Bits? 195
Chapter 7: You Can't Say That on the Internet: Guarding the Frontiers of Digital Expression 229
Chapter 8: Bits in the Air: Old Metaphors, New Technologies, and Free Speech 259
Conclusion: After the Explosion 295

All the chapters were well written, informative and flow well together. I felt the authors did a great job breaking down the technical concepts behind the technologies well enough to get the required background (technical but not too technical) and then move into the political discussions of those technologies. The real value of the book was the "Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness" portion of the discussions. They discuss how has the world changed now that we are moving away from paper and everything is in bits.
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