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Book Review - Where Wizards Stay Up Late

April 15, 2016

I stayed up late to finish Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet, written by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon. It was a dry read, and took me a couple months of motivation, but I got through it and I’m glad.

It wasn’t as entertaining or inspired as Tim Berners-Lee’s account in “Weaving The Web”, but it was incredibly detailed and showed the early motivations - 1950′s Soviet paranoia, intellectual determination and manly competitiveness - behind the group of researchers that were funded by the American government to connect computers together and send information.

The chapter on e-mail is worth reading, regardless of the rest of the book. Like Wi-Fi is to today’s Ethernet, email was a major disruptive technology of the 1970′s, threatening the structure of the U.S. Postal Service, telephone companies, and other communications systems. This excerpt from the ARPANET consultant Einar Stefferud really stuck with me:

Desktop computers ‘will make the perfect mailbox,’ Stefferud predicted, and would bypass the post office entirely. An analogy could be drawn to the once farcical notion of automated garbage collection, which was unthinkable until the invention of the “electric pig,” the early name given to the in-sink disposal. ‘The key is not in automating the bag/can/truck/person mechanism,’ Stefferud said. ‘It is in bypassing them altogether.’

Its underlying message can be applied to any successful innovation.