- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 10 hours and 6 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Books on Tape
- Audible.com Release Date: March 18, 2005
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00083FZ6S
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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What Just Happened: A Chronicle from the Information Frontier Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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Top Customer Reviews
Looking back with the benefit of hindsight at things written about the Internet over the course of the last decade proves to be an illuminating exercise. It definitely seems to be a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Some of the things that have changed a lot since the time the original articles were published are:
* Everyone knows what the Internet is (in his introduction, Gleick explains that in the early `90s, editors made him explain this when he used the term in articles). One of the really interesting things I learned reading the book is that the original development of the Web only dates back to 1989.
* In a 1993 article, he describes people being annoyed by mobile phones ringing in airports. Given the far less appropriate places they ring today, that seems positively quaint.
* In 1993, some people remembered who Dan Quayle was and cared enough to create a newsgroup devoted to making fun of him.
Some current issues that the book demonstrates have a much longer history are:
* Concerns about bandwidth and information privacy (or more accurately, lack thereof).
* Password overload (described in amusing detail in a 1995 column).
* The incomprehensibility of software and Web site user agreements - even to those who bother to read them.
As an added bonus, since it was written as technologies were emerging, the book provides the full name of things that are now only known by their acronyms. For instance, I've never known what ISDN stands for, but now I know that it's `Integrated Services Digital Network.'
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that some of Gleick's predictions were very prescient (e.g. the Y2K anti-climax), while others were less accurate or at least premature (e.g. cash becoming obsolete). All in all, the book provides a very enjoyable look through the rearview mirror.
Author of the challenging Chaos and the very long and adoring Genius about physicist Richard Feynman and the more recent Faster, here Gleick gives us short and easy to appreciate recollections of the communications revolution. His observations are trenchant, mildly apocalyptic and/or gee-whizzed, amusing and very well expressed. Having good editors is something Gleick says he has been blessed with, and in these pieces it shows. This attractive book is simply a pleasure to read.
The first piece is from 1992 about the bugs in software, in particular those in Microsoft's Word for Windows; and I want to tell you even though (or especially because) I use WordPerfect, I identified. I felt the aggravation. Gleick notes that software is unlike any other product in its complexity, an observation that no doubt pleases Microsoft's software engineers. However, he reports that Microsoft, unable to cope with the bugs munching on their code and unable or unwilling to excise them, came to an accommodation with the world by declaring that "It's not a bug--it's a feature," while compiling an in-company list of known bugs dubbed, "Won't Fix."
And then, I guess, had lunch.
My favorite essay in the collection is the one entitled "The End of Cash" beginning on page 143 in which Gleick notes among other things that issuers of digital cash cards expect to "profit generally from lost cards." He adds that "telephone companies and transit systems already figure gains ranging from 1 percent to a phenomenal 10 percent." (p. 152) This is an example of privatized "escheatment," an aptly named phenomenon in which governments have traditionally benefitted from lost coins and paper money, or people dying without heirs. Gleick reports that billions of pennies "simply vanish from the economy each year" which he cites as a "hidden cost of money." (pp. 157-158) But credit cards too have their hidden costs. They amount to a tax on those who do not use credit cards (basically the poor) because "the credit card companies have mostly succeeded in forbidding merchants to offer discounts for cash purchases." (So everybody buying the product shares the credit card transaction costs.)
Gleick also looks into the changes that a cashless society will bring, noting what kinds of crime will no longer be worth doing (e.g., kidnaping for ransom, armed robbery.) He reflects on the phenomenon of "float" in which digital money can be used by financial institutions to earn interest for themselves. Gleick observes that holders of the Yankee dollar at home and world wide (think of the large safe-deposit drawers of Arabian sheiks) are actually lending "their wealth to the United States, interest free, just as holders of American Express traveler's checks lend their money to American Express." (p. 153)
I also liked the essays on advertising ("Who Owns Your Attention") and on the growing lack of privacy ("Big Brother Is Us") and on the awesome power of Microsoft ("Making Microsoft Save for Capitalism"). There are lesser essays on political websites... web browsing ("Here Comes the Spider") and software contracts between vendor and user ("Click OK to Agree"), etc. Finally Gleick notes that we are "Inescapably Connected" and gives on page 299 a weird but telling example of how we are being transformed. We are not yet "neurons in the new world brain," he observes, yet we have gotten so much in the habit of knowing things, or at least being able to find them out that "You get a twitchy feeling that you ought to push a button and pop up the answer."
I've felt that, and soon a connecting chip may be inside my brain that really does do something like twitch as my synapses are activated by the World Wide Web.
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