Here’s some of what just happened: Millions of ordinary, sensible people came into possession of computers. These machines had wondrous powers, yet made unexpected demands on their owners. Telephones broke free of the chains that had shackled them to bedside tables and office desks. No one was out of touch, or wanted to be out of touch. Instant communication became a birthright.
A new world, located no one knew exactly where, came into being, called “virtual” or “online,” named “cyberspace” or “the Internet” or just “the network.” Manners and markets took on new shapes and guises.
As all this was happening, James Gleick, author of the groundbreaking Chaos, columnist for The New York Times Magazine, and—very briefly—an Internet entrepreneur, emerged as one of our most astute guides to this new world. His dispatches—by turns passionate, bewildered, angry, and amazed—form an extraordinary chronicle. Gleick loves what the network makes possible, and he hates it. Software makers developed a strangely tolerant view of an ancient devil, the product defect. One company, at first a feisty upstart, seized control of the hidden gears and levers of the new economy. We wrestled with novel issues of privacy, anonymity, and disguise. We found that if the human species is evolving a sort of global brain, it’s susceptible to new forms of hysteria and multiple-personality disorder.
What Just Happened is at once a remarkable portrait of a world in the throes of transformation and a prescient guide to the transformation still to come.
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This book of previously published essays by the author of Chaos and Faster is an eclectic chronicle of the information revolution's first 10 years. "The last decade of the twentieth century came as a surprise," writes James Gleick. What Just Happened shows how surprising it was: in the book's first piece, from 1992, Gleick notes that "a relatively small number of personal computer users use Windows." (He's a good sport about it, too, poking fun at himself in an introduction for making such an obsolete observation.) A longish piece on Microsoft from 1995 seems to correct the problem when Gleick comments on "the ever-advancing boundary of Microsoft's Windows package." Then it goes on to get something really right: "Microsoft's own power poses a threat, too--the threat that comes with the self-fulfilling destiny of any monopolist." That's a prescient observation, considering the antitrust actions taken against the company since those words were written. The closing chapter of the book is fascinating and forward-looking; it's not about what just happened but what may happen. Gleick anticipates the appearance of wristwatches containing "biometric information about your loved ones, so you can see how your parents are doing." If that doesn't sound exciting enough, consider this prediction: "One can even imagine properly functional motor-vehicle offices." Now that's something to look forward to. --John MillerFrom the Back Cover:
“A marvellous journey around our technology-drenched world ... The work of a master.” – The Independent
“Gleick’s a crack investigator who digs for the exceptional facts…. A worthy overview…on the brave new problems we’ve faced—and will face into the future.” – Detroit Free Press
“Invokes nostalgia for a simpler, more innocent time, before we took all this technology for granted.” – The Rocky Mountain News
“ What Just Happened is a lively time capsule that examines the recent past—one that, not long ago, seemed fairly far-fetched.” – Columbus Dispatch
“Gleick is a writer blessed with a techie’s mind and insight. . . . As we further immerse ourselves into a plugged-in world, it would be wise to listen to what Glieck had to say back when.” — Book Street USA
"Gleick is the king of popular science writing." — Irish Times
"Gleick is one of America's leading exegete of the technological revolution that, like it or not, is taking over all our lives. He spends his at the cutting edge of computer and allied sciences, returning from the front with visions of the future." — The Observer
“Gleick’s essays remain pertinent.” — The New York Times Book Review
“James Gleick . . . is on the outer reaches of the electronic frontier . . . and [he] has mastered it.” — The Roanoke Times
“ What Just Happened is a lively time capsule that examines the recent past— one that, not long ago, seemed mostly far-fetched.” — The Columbus Dispatch
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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