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A great primer for anyone interested in the Internet
on 30 December 2011
The Internet is now the background to most of our lives - for some it is central - but how much do
we really understand about how it works and what it's doing to us? This book by John Naughton is a great place to start. It gives you the history, enough of the technology and most importantly, a very good way past the myths and into the real significance of the Internet.
Naughton is in a good place to do this. He is part geek, part academic, part journalist, part enthusiast. The result is a book with comfortable authority. He doesn't let his knowledge get in the way of your understanding.
I am supposed to be a new media expert, but really I'm just a journalist interested in its effects. For me, the Internet is not just central to our lives, but environmental. However, I don't really know much about how it works. So From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg was very useful. What is the difference between the Internet and the Web? How can a digital system have a virus? How can I get information from a cloud? All these and more of the technical questions are answered. But Naughton goes further than simply providing a kind of Haynes Manual for the Internet.
From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg explores the concepts that make the Internet such an interesting and probably unique media force for social, political and economic change. He reminds us that the Internet is constantly evolving both as a structure as well as its content. He tells us to remember that disruption is the norm not the exception for the Internet. He asks us to think of the Internet as an ecology - a kind of living system, not a machine.
But it gets even more interesting and a little more contentious when he looks at the future. At this point Naughton changes persona somewhat from the affable guide to the Internet tapping away in his Cambridge study. Now we have John Naughton the Internet activist who believes that copyright is an outmoded restriction on the freedom that makes the Net such as creative force: "we're facing a situation where large numbers of our fellow citizens are effectively being criminalised by unenforceable laws".
In the final chapter Naughton takes us on a tour of the future of the Internet with competing utopian and nightmare visions. Through Orwell, Huxley and then Steve Jobs we journey through the battlefield for the Open Internet. Naughton cites the excellent Timonthy Wu and Evegeny Morozov to warn us of how corporations as well as authoritarian governments might want to use the Internet to control and exploit us. But in the end this feels more like a sober celebration of the Internet than a diagnosis of decay.
This is a clear, readable, unpatronising, well structured book where the appendix and glossary are actually very useful. I would recommend it to anyone seeking to understand the Internet in the round. Perhaps you already know about programming, or web design or blogging. Perhaps you do online marketing, journalism or campaigning. Or perhaps the Internet is just where you go for friendship, amusement or shopping. In any case, you will know at least part of this story, but Naughton's book gives you the whole picture.
London School of Economics