- Series: later printing
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (January 3, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679762906
- ISBN-13: 978-0679762904
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 79 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #472,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Being Digital 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Negroponte, a Wired columnist and founder of MIT's Media Lab, presents an accessible guide to the cutting edge of digital technology and his predictions for its future.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"The finest, most understandable explanation of the digital revolution to date....Being Digital is a visionary work, written by one of this planet's masters of media."--The Christian Science Monitor
"Being Digital flows from the pen (or cursor) of a wizard who is himself helping to create the new cosmos into which we are hurtling....To read Being Digital is to enter the future it describes."--The New York Times Book Review
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The book first of all emphasises how far we have come when it talks about 9600 baud connections, I am writing this post sat on the end of an internet connection that provides 50mbps download and 10mbps upload – and that’s slow compared to the speeds that I enjoyed in Hong Kong. Negroponte envisioned that satellites would have a greater role in internet access than it seems to currently have, cellular networks seem to have brought that disruption instead.
It has the tone of boundless optimism that seemed to exemplify technology writing in the mid-to-late 1990s but with not quite the messianic feel of peer George Gilder. Negroponte smartly hedges his bets for where the ‘rubber hits the road’ as society brings some odd effects in on technology usage.
Negroponte grasped the importance of digital and the internet as a medium for the provision of media content. That sounds like a no brainer but back in the day the record industry didn’t get it. In fact record industry went on to make blockbuster profits for another five years, N’Sync was the best selling artist of the year in 2000 with No Strings Attached selling 9.94 million copies. Over the next decade or so profits halved in the face of determined record label countermeasures including suing their customers.
Negroponte was dismissive of high definition video and television considering it wasteful of bandwidth. On this I get the sense that he is both right and wrong. We are surrounded by high definition screens (even 4K mobile screens – where their size doesn’t allow you to appreciate the full clarity of the image). But this doesn’t mean that our entertainment has to come in high definition, much YouTube isn’t watched on full screen for instance.
Negroponte grasped that it would also shake up the book industry and Being Digital has been published in a number of e-book reader formats, but at the moment the experience of digital books leaves something to be desired compared to traditional books.
Negroponte labours a surprising amount of copy on tablet devices. At the time that he published his book GO was in competition with Microsoft with pen computing devices and software, EO had launched their personal communicator – a phablet sized cellular network connected pen tablet and the first Apple Newton had launched in 1993. Negroponte goes on to insist that the finger is the best stylus. MIT Media Lab had done research on the stylus-less touch experience, but reading the article reminded me of the points Steve Jobs had made about touch on the original iPhone and iPad.
Negroponte considered that we would be supported in our online lives with agents that would provide contextual content and do tasks, which is where Google Now, Siri and Cortana have tried to go. However his writing implies an agent that is less ‘visible’ and in the face of the user.
Negroponte’s critique of virtual reality at the time provides good insight as to how much progress Oculus Rift and other similar products have made. He points out the technical and user experience challenges really well. If anyone is thinking about immersive experiences, it is well worth a read.
For starters, you can't blame Negroponte for the dated material in the book. After all, it was published in 1995. One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was reading some of the predictions made by Negroponte back then, and how they turned out. The "atoms vs. bits" argument was arguably revolutionary at the time and I think it is a relevant method of discussing the digital revolution with students who were born either during or shortly before the book being published. Dinosaurs such as I can remember the days before the internet and when we had to use typewriters to work on papers. I remember how completely freaked out I was the first time I heard my computer "speak" in 1994, after installing a sound card and CD ROM drive - so the concept of interactive computing and hence moving bits vs. moving atoms is a bit of an eye-opener to an old timer. To those who come of age post-Internet, its a good way of grounding you in the history and function of digital life. The best arguments in the book show up in the introduction and in the conclusion - I think that's where Negroponte is at his best. He pontificates (as well as predicts!) very well in these sections - much better than in the rest of the book.
Between the intro and conclusion... well... there seems to be a lot of rambling. Kind of reminds me of a guy at work who won't stop talking once he starts. And then its scattershot from one topic to another, blah de blah de blah, with no real substance. The best part between the opening and closing is when Negroponte goes off about the stupidity of fax technology. Quite frankly I agree - why type something on a computer, print it out, put it in another machine, send it electronically to wherever, so that someone at the other end can print out another copy? Complete waste of paper, to say the least. Makes me wonder if the lumber/timber industry isn't involved somehow... but other than that, there just isn't much there.
That said, this isn't really a bad book. At times I found myself nodding in agreement, other times nodding off to sleep, and other times laughing out loud either at the foolishness of some predictions or the uncanny accuracy of others. Overall however, I wasn't too terribly impressed.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and reflecting on his foresight.
Gave a copy to my techie son.