The Innovators

innovatorsThe Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
by Walter Isaacson
2014 / 560 pages
Rating 9.25 / nonfiction – science

Very interesting book on how the computer, as we know it, came to be and how these kinds of innovators need space to develop their projects.  Contemporary tech systems certainly weren’t concocted by any one person sitting around tinkering.   All manner of people and ideas were involved from the days of Ada Lovelace in the 19th century to Steve Jobs and the artificial intelligence being developed today.  And these folks developed working styles to match their enterprises.

The computer was a collaborative effort developed over decades by many thousands of people and furthermore it came about at the conjunction of ideas and technology like personal computing and the internet.  The whole thing was basically a “cooperative” effort.

The chapter titles are a good outline of the ideas and technology which were developed along the way –  Ada Lovelace, The computer, Programming, The Transistor, The Microchip, Video Games, The Internet, The Personal Computer, Software, Online and The Web.

What Isaacson is bringing to the study is the big idea of how collaborative efforts can have a bigger impact than the loner working in his shop or taking all the credit.  This idea has been tried in lots of areas, but it shines in the area of technology where ideas bounce off each other and no one is too worried about getting credit for the idea – (Although the issue of patents and recognition exists there, too – i.e. William Shockley took it a bit far.)

Where big money is needed for start-up,  capitalism works well with all its competitive spirit involved.  Where individual ideas and interests come into play without encumbering thought of monetary reward, then the open source wins out.

Good read,  especially for those interested in contemporary lay-person business ideas.  There’s not a whole lot of info about how these technologies actually work but that’s really not Isaacson’s thrust – he’s looking at the creative personalities and what makes that aspect work best.

The chapter called “The Internet” with all the issues involving ARPANET (military, academia, etc.)  was fascinating.  Also of total interest is the way that Isaacson parallels other events of the times – like Woodstock, Charles Manson, etc of 1969,  and the first inter-computer communication but then that part got a bit heavy-handed for awhile.

After “The Internet”  chapter my interest kind of went downhill, perhaps I knew much of this already – The Innovators is now just filling in details.

“The Personal Computer” chapter is a bit heavy on the popular culture of 1969 but … that’s the year for many things relevant to freedom and creativity and the focus is on some of the people involved in the computer/internet boom.   The chapter called “Software” has too much biography of Bill Gates and the stuff on Steve Jobs and  Steve Wozniak is from Isaacson’s bio of Steve Jobs.

Overall it’s a good read, great in some places, and the material is very nicely organized,  but you can tell Isaacson is a biographer first.  The somewhat digressive mini-bios can interfere a bit with the basic theme of collaboration and its relationship to creativity.

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