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Book Review: What Just Happened

I recently read ‘What Just Happened’, by James Gleick. I’m a big fan of his–I read ‘Chaos’ years ago. This book covered the history of chaos theory; I was engrossed by the fluid writing and deft handling of such a tough subject.

‘What Just Happened’ is not such a book–rather than a coherent look at recent history, this book is a collection of stories spanning that time (from 1992 to 2001). From spam to bugs to online pornography to passwords to email forwards, Mr Gleick covers a number of issues that are still relevant for us today. I will say that the number of forwards I’ve gotten since I left college has fallen dramatically, but the amount of spam has not. The internet still ‘makes it all too easy to fling random illiterate drivel across the planet’.

There are also a number of neat historic references. There is a five page article about Y2K, written in Jan of 1999, where Mr Gleick was already saying that we had nothing to worry about come 1/1/2000. Another suggests ways to ‘make Microsoft for capitalism’, written just around the release of Windows 95. Remember when we thought we could count on the US government to deal with monopolists?

On a personal note, I have to link to Zia Consulting, because one of their principals was mentioned in this book; you could apparently page Bindu Wavell over the Internet in December 1995.

The format of this book makes it a nice bus read. None of the articles are longer than forty pages and many are a good deal shorter. Whether you nod your head in agreement with some of the issues covered that are still present, or are wistfully transported back to the days when you were still interested in checking the status of a Coke machine over the Internet, this book has its moments. If you enjoy pop tech at all, or if you’ve been caught up in the wave the Internet has created over the past 15 years, chances are you’ll enjoy this book.

“What Just Happened” at Amazon.