on 28 January 2000
This is the best history of the net (odd idea, I know) that I have seen. More than others, it places the events in a context that helps one understand why innovation happened. This book is important not only for looking backwards, but also for understanding what we must do to keep the net as it is.
on 29 September 1999
To Naughton the Internet is "one of the most remarkable things human beings have ever made. It is, he says, potentially more importan than even print and television in transforming the communications envirionment in which we live. Up to 150 million people already use the Net and the number is growing rapidly. Most of those who use it know how to hit the keys to send an e-mail or to surf the Web, but we have no idea how it works or how it came about. Naughton brings to life, in a highly readable form, the history of the Net. He tells of the fortuitous chances and the genius of selfless people that created it. He rejoices that it is a means of expression that anyone can use and no one can censor.
on 28 September 1999
Finally we have a book which persuades us that the Net is more than a global network of computer networks -- because it involves also many, many people, in different places, at different times. A Brief History of the Future is much more than a history of the internet, but rather an ethnography of the dreamers and visionaries, as Naughton calls them, who made it happen. Naughton writes not only with the sensibility of an anthropologist, but the passion of a participant-observer -- a "native ethnographer" in the parlance of the discipline. While reading it, I was reminded of another book, Making PCR (Chicago University Press, 1996) by the American cultural anthropologist Paul Rabinow on a technological breakthrough which changed biotechnology forever. Of course, these authors treat their own subject matter in significantly different style -- particularly because Rabinow's laboratory ethnography itself does not read like other traditional ethnographies at all. But both Naughton and Rabinow share the same commitment to rectify the disciplinary prejudice of history of science (of under-estimating the essential element of arbitrariness of how history is a "resultant" of forces including, but not exclusive to, human actions and impulses) or sociology of science (of over-interpreting the "social", or extra-individual, influences on scientific and technological changes), by foregrounding the people, real persons with first, middle, and last names, their interaction among themselves, and with the "things" they produce or work with. Both try to dispel the myths about either *the* father of the Net or *the* inventor of PCR. Both are concerned with how collective human creativity shapes the present and leads to the future. Both voice out unambiguously their uneasiness with how the milieu (the intellectual climate, the ethos, and the institutions) of doing productive, co-operative, and "good" scientific and technological research has been changed (perhaps irreversibly) by the very progress of science and technology and its effects on the society.
Whether or not Naughton has offered us an exhaustive, "complete" history of the Net is besides the point. His book is definitely superior to many similar, previous attempts by journalists or science writers, not only because of his professional authority and skilful mastery of explaining technical matters in layman's terms, but also because, thank God, his is a book which has a beginning, a middle, and above all, an end! Unlike the serial exhibition of egos so common in the high journalistic genre of "profiles" of the key players of a technological innovation, which pretends to tell a "story" which comes from nowhere and goes nowhere, there is a sense of fulfilment, or even "completion", when you finish Naughton's book, because it affords its reader a sense of orientation to, or a touch of confidence in (if not optimism of) the endless human endeavour of living, working, and communicating with each others, with the help and participation of the artefacts, machines, or even new "virtual" realities they create precisely for these purposes.
on 28 April 2002
This could have been a wonderful book. The author obviously knows his stuff and who has a passion for the internet. Sadly he has chosen to devote hundreds of pages to the tedious details of which university lab did what, whose computers connected to where, and how many lines of code exist in some browser or other.
Starting with a warming account of his childhood experience of the wireless, John Naughton could have gone on to tell us how this led him on to the net and what it's doing for society, or even just for himself. He denies us access to any thoughts he might have on the future. He analyses in great detail the technicalites and politics, but (admittedly not for want of trying) does not suceed in relating it to our lives.
A sadly dull waste of an opportunity: all the disadvantages of an academic study, with none of the advantages of a personal account by an entusiast.