Re: The History of Tech

In Robert Brook”s ever delightful daily newsletter (you should really subscribe – it’s comforting like having some cookies with your favorite aunt or grandma – or, despite suffering through getting up at 4am in the morning, that serene feeling of fishing on a quiet, dusky lake in the early morning) he quotes Dave Winer:

I wonder if Google employs any historians to advise them on strategies tried in the past and how they turned out.

To which I replied, to Robert: hardly anyone tracks the year-to-year history of technology and strategies therein. I find it incredibly annoying. (Part of the problem is that in the past decade, the thing to cover became the web [Google, Facebook, etc.] instead of software itself.) As Dave points out, this results in countless incidents of buffoonery and is the basis for much of the power (older) tech analysts and executives have: since no one documents this history, they have stronger, history-based intuitions about what will work and not work. 

For those who are into that whole “reading books” thing:

  • In Search of Stupidity is one of the few books on tech history (I read the first edition – there’s been updates).
  • The Business of Software – the first 1/3 or so is mostly just the history of the software industry. One forgets how dominate IBM was and what a massive disruptor Microsoft was.
  • While Accidental Empires isn’t purely software focused, it’s a damn good history of the tech industry up to around 1990.
If you read those three books, or so, you’ll get that same Winer feeling that things just go in infinite loops, turtles all the way down and all that, in the tech world…and, it’ll make you appreciate how damn hard it is to have true, revolutionary successes & shifts like PCs (!), open source, the web, smartphones/tablets…and how easy & common it is to try the same dumb shit over and over.

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1 Comment

  1. There are lots of random history documents around, for example for anyone with an architectural bent on virtualization, this history of IBM’s mainframe virtualization going back to 1964 makes fascinating, if not difficult reading because it mixes politics and technology and attempts to explain how things got to where they were, right around the time x86 virtualization took off. I even make an appearance for a very minor role on page 63 :) – VM and the VM Community: Past, Present, and Future, revised 08/16/97

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