Working on the forthcoming book. Here’s a teaser the changed media environment…
The theatres of the Elizabethan and Stuart eras were venues where ‘a thousand townsemen, gentlemen and whores, porters and serving–men together throng’, according to one contemporary account. The decorum of the modern theatre did not apply. Heckles and sometimes projectiles came at the players from every direction. To the fore of the playhouse massed before the stage stood the ‘groundlings’: poor people who stood exposed to the elements in the centre of the theatre, and who were known as ‘stinkards’ in summer due to their rich aroma in warmer conditions. Above and about the stage were the elite, only slightly less rowdy, sitting in sheltered areas variously assigned to lords, who sat behind the stage itself; to gentlemen, who sat in raised side areas about the stage; and those who could afford a seat and sheltered vantage in the tiered gallery that faced the stage over the heads of the groundlings. In the midst of all of these people, suffering their outbursts and vying for their attention, were the playwright and actors. Continue reading
Short teaser from the forthcoming book… The tailored suit has a long history. The coat, waistcoat, and breeches gradually became the gentleman’s mainstay from the English Restoration in the 1660s onward, when the elaborate dress common at European courts fell out of favor. Embroidery and silk died out from the middle of the 18th century and wool became the norm, particularly in circles with a democratic axe to grind. Benjamin Franklin made a splash at the French Court by turning up in the somber suit of a Quaker. (More rustic still, he wore his own hair rather than a wig.) In the wake of the French Revolution even French nobles lost their enthusiasm for aristocratic dress.
By this time the plain linen three-piece suit already marked the height of gentlemen’s fashion in England. Despite the rapid deterioration in the European sartorial standard, the business suit remained the gentleman’s mainstay from Charles II’s reign in the 17th century to James Bond and Gordon Gekko in the late 20th. Then, in 1996, Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, the company that had made the biggest IPO in history the year before, appeared on the cover of Time Magazine sitting on a throne in bare feet. He wore a polo shirt and jeans. Three centuries of the suit were forgotten.
Continuing from the earlier snippet about the Dot Com Collapse… this is a continuing piece from the forthcoming book. (feedback welcome)
The collapse had been foreseen by a shrewd few. In early December 1996, Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, attended a dinner in his honor at the American Enterprise Institute. After the guests had finished eating, Greenspan rose to make a long speech on the Challenge of Central Banking in a Democratic Society. In the last few paragraphs of his speech, Greenspan injected words of caution. He accepted that sustained low inflation and lower risk premiums were driving up stock prices. Yet at the same time, he noted the growing distance between investors’ expectation returns from stock and how much those stocks were actually earning. Greenspan asked:
…how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade?
Some data from the book.
On 25 July 1994, the front cover of Time Magazine announced ‘the strange new world of the Internet’. The Internet was of course only new to those who had not known of it previously. What was new was the WWW, which put a user friendly face on the network. Also new was an explosion in the number of connected networks thanks to the initiatives of the National Science Foundation’s network. Over the six years of the NSF MERIT backbone the number of connected networks grew from 240 in 1988 to 32,400 in 1994. Between 150 and 300 networks joined the Internet each week. In 1992 traffic on the network grew at 11% each month, and 6,000 networks were connected, two thirds of them in the US. By October 1994 3.8 million computers were connected to the Internet. By July 1995, 6.6 million were online. Even as network use grew, the WWW increasingly became the focus of interest. In April 1995 the traffic generated by WWW surpassed even the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) Continue reading
More for the book… In 1957, a blind, five year old boy named Joe Engressia first realized that he could control the phone system and make long distance phone calls at no cost by whistling a specific pitch down the phone line. The AT&T phone network used twelve combinations of six audio tones as control signals. Engressia’s whistles through the mouthpiece were interpreted as the phone company’s own control tones. Engressia was one of a scattered group of technologically curious young teenagers across the United States who spent their free time experimenting with controlling the phone system. These kids called them selves ‘phone phreaks’. Many were blind and were, to some extent, socially isolated among kids of their own age. It was the phreaks, however, who first liberated themselves from reliance on their proximate peers. Theirs would be a community drawn together by the attraction of common interest rather than the strictures of geography. Continue reading
This appears in my book A history of the Internet and the digital future – see kind words from Cory Doctorow, Marc Benioff, and others here.
On 12 February 1812, Lord Byron, perhaps the most outrageous and disreputable of the English poets, took the floor at the House of Lords to begin his maiden speech. A bill had recently been introduced that would impose a death penalty in response to the Luddites, the textile artisans rioting in opposition to the industrial revolution and wreaking mechanized looms. Byron made his maiden speech in defense of the artisans and decried industrialization. It might seem odd then that Byron’s daughter should be in the avant garde of the next wave of disruptive technologies –computing. Odder still, considering the stereotype of programmers: Byron himself was a promiscuous bi-sexual, the most flamboyant figure of the romantic movement, constantly in debt, and ever surrounded by scandal. Yet his only legitimate daughter was a mathematical genius and would be remembered as history’s first computer programmer. Continue reading