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Publisher's Summary

Silicon Valley gets all the credit for digital creativity, but this account of the pre-PC world, when computing meant more than using mature consumer technology, challenges that triumphalism.

The invention of the personal computer liberated users from corporate mainframes and brought computing into homes. But throughout the 1960s and 1970s, a diverse group of teachers and students working together on academic computing systems conducted many of the activities we now recognize as personal and social computing. Their networks were centered in New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Illinois, but they connected far-flung users. Joy Rankin draws on detailed records to explore how users exchanged messages, programmed music and poems, fostered communities, and developed computer games like The Oregon Trail. These unsung pioneers helped shape our digital world, just as much as the inventors, garage hobbyists, and eccentric billionaires of Palo Alto.

By imagining computing as an interactive commons, the early denizens of the digital realm seeded today's debate about whether the Internet should be a public utility and laid the groundwork for the concept of net neutrality. Rankin offers a radical precedent for a more democratic digital culture, and new models for the next generation of activists, educators, coders, and makers.

©2018 Joy Lisi Rankin (P)2018 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Paul
  • 27-02-19

Very mixed feelings

On listening to the introductory chapter I was almost ready to return the book for a refund. I was sure that the narration was a text to speech implementation, wooden and unemotive. It was also introducing an new definition of networking that I had not come across in my 35 years of professional computing.
Liberal use of the skip function has saved me from beating up my audio player by skipping the sections of the book that the author is attempting to spin a history from fragments of facts and drawing massive conclusions.
I did find the history of the development of time sharing and BASIC to be interesting and it was chapters like these that kept me from returning the book.

6 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Nate
  • 23-04-19

Title is misleading

You might think that this book is about the history of computing in the United States but in fact it talks about the history of time sharing systems and early computer networks in the 1960-70s. It does a good job of focusing on those elements of computing history. If you are interested in those things and that time period, I recommend this book.

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • James J. Shackel
  • 30-11-19

Informative with dry automaton narration

A very informative book which fills the gap nicely between mainframes and micro-computers. Lots of information about the origins of: PLATO, time-share computing, early social networking via PLATO, early email and instant messaging, network gaming, etc.

I was uncomfortable with much of the politically correct talk regarding chauvinism at Dartmouth in the computer labs. The guys emulating Football in BASIC were doing so because it was fun. There’s little evidence they did so as some expression of male-dominance power BS, or to exclude women intentionally. FOTBAL is fun! Video gaming is ultimately about simulating events most of us cannot do in the real world: fighting aliens, flying a 737, space travel, playing in the Super Bowl, designing cities, crushing candy, farming, etc. Football skill and computing expertise are generally extremely mutually exclusive.

To suggest football was intentionally chosen by early male computer enthusiasts as a move to repress/exclude women is honestly just silly.

My university computing days covered the years 1982-1987. In those days we computer nerds would have loved to include more women into the male-dominant tech realm. I cannot remember a single female Computer Science Engineering student at my school whom wasn’t also a foreign student. Surely a sad reality.

We did not exclude women nor feel threatened by their presence in the classroom. Most of the women I studied beside easily outperformed me. Still, not threatened.

After listening to this book I’m left wondering why the feminist politics were injected into an otherwise wonderful body of work? I’m a feminist BTW. Waving the BS flag on the notion of threatened men imtentionallu excluding women from early computing.