History is important. It inspires us and it informs us about the present and we can learn about it to shape the future. I was inspired to work in PR for the technology sector by Robert X Cringely’s book Accidential Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date.
Cringely inspired me with a tale of extraordinary people, strong personalities and a bit of youth rebellion. Cringely touched on the contribution of early pioneers like Doug Engelbert and Bob Metcalfe, but placed most of his emphasis on Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
John Markoff’s What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry covered the earlier generation of innovators in more depth, particularly Engelbart.
The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal tells the story from the point-of-view of J C R Linklder, a polymath who was instrumental in putting in place a lot of the projects and infrastructure that was needed to make the necessary developments. Linklider was a psychologist by training who realised the power and potential of technology way before it was possible.
Waldrop tells the story well, painting Licklider as a human being: a wonderful polymath, parent, researcher and a useless manager. He also paints the broader historical picture taking in ARPA, DEC, Xerox PARC, Al Gore and the Information Superhighway.