Being digital

by Nicholas Negroponte

Hardcover, 1995




New York : Knopf, 1995.


In lively, mordantly witty prose, Negroponte decodes the mysteries--and debunks the hype--surrounding bandwidth, multimedia, virtual reality, and the Internet, and explains why such touted innovations as the fax and the CD-ROM are likely to go the way of the BetaMax. "Succinct and readable. ... If you suffer from digital anxiety ... here is a book that lays it all out for you."--Newsday.

User reviews

LibraryThing member LyzzyBee

I recall buying this as soon as it came out in paperback, loving it at the time, and starting to call myself a “cybrarian” (what can I say: I was at Library School at the time). This book was written just as the digital revolution was starting off. As a point of comparison, at this stage I had my own email account, had text-only internet access at University, and was a member of a few listservs. Negroponte was at the MIT Media Lab, working on cutting edge technology. In this book, he set out his stall as to the uses of the digital features that were just then being developed, and predicted the near and far future. This book had a big effect on me, helping me embrace “digital” more in a world where library studies were being pulled in two directions.

I guessed it would be a very different reading experience now, and so it was. But fascinating!

So, what didn’t happen? Negroponte’s computers-in-a-watch … well, that is not ubiquitous, but the computers in our mobile phones are analogous, I think. And we still don’t have nine-inch hologram personal assistants running around on our actual desktops (what a shame – although mine would trip over the piles of paper and books on my desk!). And I think CD-Roms probably disappeared a bit more quickly than he thought.

He predicted ebooks, but thought they would be on actual paper, and predicted newspapers in that format, too (also, oddly, I recall distinctly reading about e-ink that switched round to present new words on flexible pages when a chip was inserted into an ebook spine. Couldn’t find that in the book this time, even after going through the index. I wonder if I read that in an article he wrote). And the iPad – “multimedia will become more book-like, something with which you can curl up in bed”. He accurately predicted in-car GPS systems, although doubted that they would have voice commands, owing to the fear of litigation (they do have voice commands in the US, right?). And the most important one, to my mind, was his prediction of borderless, 24-hour working. That’s certainly come true for me!

What’s changed? Remember dial-up? It was amazing in 1996 to have a list of numbers allowing you to connect to the Net from any country in the world. Yes, a list of phone numbers, and 90 different phone jacks with which to connect your computer in different countries. Hotel guides were starting to publish information on which chains didn’t allow you to unplug their phones and plug in your modems! That feels like another world, doesn’t it!

And what hasn’t changed. Amusingly, he talks about people claiming they are not “computer literate” after the “debilitating” battle to print a document off. Well, has that really changed … ?!

It was truly fascinating to read this from the other side of the digital revolution, and I am so glad I did so.
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LibraryThing member Nagel_Family_Library
Reviewing this book again 10 years later, it's fantastic to see just how much of what he wrote then is today concidered just a part of the norm of life.
Highly recomended!
LibraryThing member sarahlouise
I remember reading this book and Tim taught me how to count in "digital." I promptly forgot. This book is well written. Also, my dad served as Econ counselor to Ambassador John Negroponte (Nicholas's brother) in the 80s in Honduras.
LibraryThing member rcampoamor
A bit dated now, but at the time (1995) this book did a great job of capturing the imagination of what the Internet and digital technologies could bring to the world. The result was, er, a bit different.
LibraryThing member TimothyBurke
Worth reading now in the same way that most old futurism is worth reading, as a lesson in humility. Still, even back then, the wild-eyed, heedless promises of digitization being able to slice bread, wash your underwear, perform rhinoplasty and usher in a boundless era of unending world peace ought to have occasioned a few more doubts than they evidently did.… (more)
LibraryThing member francesanngray
excellent explanation of digital television, etc.; he had at the time a clear understanding of the way trends were leading
LibraryThing member TeeMcp
15 years on, this is an interesting read if only to see how many predictions came to fruition. Almost spooky really. Not gonna spoil it by saying which ones, but would recommend to geeks & historians alike.
LibraryThing member heradas
This guy absolutely nails it. Written in 1995, and absolutely as relevant today as it was then. Everything he talks about has come to fruition. It's worth reading again every 5-10 years.
LibraryThing member stern
Probably insightful at its time, less today.


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