"A Brief History of the Future: Origins of the Internet", John Naughton

Mariam Cook
19 January 2006

"The only book that tells the whole story of the internet."


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"A Brief History of the Future: Origins of the Internet"
by John Naughton
Phoenix | October 2000 | ISBN 075381093X

Recommended by Mariam Cook: I must begin by confessing a certain prejudice: I have a lot of respect for the internet. I wouldn’t want to appear terminally hopeless by saying it is one of the best things that has ever happened to me, so I won't. Although I adore surprises, I picked up A Brief History of the Future as I have always liked looking forwards. What could be more useful at this moment than a firm grasp of this "future" of ours that cyberspace is defining?

I was compelled by John Naughton's book from start to finish. He manages to masterfully weave the history of the internet with his own personal experience, from international collaboration, chance encounters to eyes opening wide to the possibilities the internet represents for us all. John Naughton's own place in the puzzle begins with a small boy and the somewhat modest technology of short-wave radio. He recounts how once only those who knew specific IP addresses could visit a website – a far cry from today where you can type the most obscure phrase into Google and find millions of pages that match your whim.

The continuing and increasingly fashionable open source movement is informed and supported by John Naughton's depiction of the innovative and anti-egoist method of collaboration, Request For Comments (RFC). A RFC is a process by which a developer communicates a memo saying "I’ve made this piece of code", or "I have this idea"... "Any comments?" Thus this portion of the net's evolution makes a strong case for co-operation, which merits scrutiny by those who have an interest.

I must stress: A Brief History of the Future does not read like a technical manual, autobiography or history textbook. You can approach it from any angle and learn a little more of how we got "here", what's behind it, and appreciate the quirky personal experiences of the author. There may be biases, inaccuracies and omissions to be pinpointed by the hawk-eyed technocrat or technophobe, but to me A Brief History of the Future is an easy and informative ride through a phenomenon that is fundamentally altering our daily lives, our economies and our society.

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John Naughton

About the author: John Naughton is Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology at the Open University and leader of the Faculty of Technology's "Going Digital" project. He is also a Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge where he runs the College's Press Fellowship Programme and co-ordinates Cambridge’s contribution to the Internet Political Economy Forum. He has been a weekly columnist on the Observer since 1987 and is now the paper's internet commentator. He was the Television Critic of the Listener in the 1980s, and was the Observer's Television Critic for nine years (1987-1995), during which time he won the Critic of the Year award three times. His website is at www.molly.open.ac.uk.

(source: David Higham Associates)

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