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James Gleick’s ‘What Just Happened.’

At first blush, I thought I was in for another analyst ego trip. But as I paged through “What Just Happened” (Pantheon Books, 2002), I realized that the book is more than just a collection of previously published essays by James Gleick. It is a solid history of technology in the 1990s. Gleick’s ability to describe not just the technology but also the social effects of technology change makes these essays sing. And his wit and uncanny perceptiveness make this book an exciting read for technophiles and casual observers alike.

The collection reinforces the fact that the 1990s represents a crossroads in modern culture. In the ’00s, the pace of technology change has slowed to a crawl by comparison to the go-go ’90s. Internet time has reverted to standard time–some might say Paleolithic time. Most of the technologies we talk about in ComputerUser are merely mature versions of what was released in the ’90s. For example, as early as 1993, in “The Telephone Transformed into Almost Anything,” Gleick explored the problems of DSL for the last mile, the cultural revolution of the cell phone, the integration of voice and data, and hybrid phones/PDAs.

Because Glieck was gifted with keen appreciation for how these technologies would change our lives, his lessons are still applicable today, even as the technologies themselves continue to evolve into something useful. As I read his pages, I kept asking myself, “Didn’t I just write about that?” and wondering if my analysis is that far behind the times or if his was just that far ahead.

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