Computer Lib/Dream Machines
Ted Nelson started the entire genre of mainstream computer books, in 1974 with a Whole Earth Catalog-sized polemic called Computer Lib/Dream Machines. Like an Ace pulp science-fiction novel, it comes in two halves, bound upside-down together. The "Lib" side was a tourist guide to available computers and the corporate politics behind them; the "Dream" side showed us evanescent innovations that (Nelson knew) would reshape everyone's lives. (One of these nascent innovations was "Hypertext" - in which text or pictures contain "links," or passages through which people con metaphorically leop to other information important to them. Nelson is the most prominent popularizer of this idea, which he has devoted much of his working life to developing, and which is now itself linked with various suddenly prominent programs like HyperCard and the forthcoming Lotus Agenda.)
Now Nelson has voraciously updated both halves of his old book. The format is (a bit too much) old stuff updated copiously with brilliant new stuff. Amidst viciously welltargeted assessments of machines, metaphors, and manufacturers, you will be guided through hacker in-jokes and skilled pithy judgements. Nelson is sometimes justly criticized for quirkiness and self-indulgence; but he has on innote ability to judge the significance of particular technologies, shared by few other writers. He has, in this edition, also recreated what was then and is still the most fun-to-read computer book of all time.
Something inside almost ... is a process. Elevators, drink machines, gas pumps, ... cash registers that just happens to be holding up M2W line - all have ... based on how some programmer thought about the problem.
The most literate and informed writing on the technology of thinking comes on the gray, typewritten pages of this very expensive newsletter. For many of its subscribers, it's an unbelievable bargain. Instead of tramping to the computer industry's most tantalizing conferences, they can read Esther Dyson's personable reports, and soak up more than they would by being there. Dyson deciphers esoteric technical issues into oh-I-get-it! language, further refined by an impenetrable filter against PR hype. Moreover, she has an unerring nose for the significant consequence. Talk a library into subscribing.
My favorite computer read is Release 1.0, a pricey monthly from 0The ALL-PURPOSE Machine Computers are COMPLETELY GENERAL, with no fixed purpose or style of operation. In spite of this, the strange myth has evolved that computers are somehow "mathematical".
Actually von Neumann, who got the general idea about as soon as anybody (1940s), called the computer THE ALL-PURPOSE MACHINE.
(Indeed, the first backer of computers after World War II was a maker of multi-lightbulb signs. It is an interesting possibility that if he had not been killed in an airplane crash, computers would have been seen first as text handling and picture-taking machines, and only later developed for mathematics and business.)
We would call it the All-Purpose Machine here, except that for historical reasons it has been slapped with the other name.
But that doesn't mean it has a fixed way of operating. On the contrary. COMPUTERS HAVE NO NATURE AND NO CHARACTER, save that which has been put into them by whoever is creating the program for a particular purpose. Computers are, unlike any other piece of equipment, perfectly BLANK. And that is how we have projected on it so many different faces.
Computer Lib/Dream Machines