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Tech is culture

AMERICAN SCIENTIST -- In his new book on the origins of the PC industry, noted technology journalist John Markoff says the PC revolution between 1962 and 1975 was spawned from cultural upheaval, political ferment and recreational drug use, and that out of that mix came the central idea of personal computing: "the notion that one person should control all of the functions of a computer and that the machine would in turn respond as an idea amplifier."

In an interview with American Scientist magazine, Markoff says the point of the book is that "technology is shaped by culture, politics and economy. A classic example would be the invention of the integrated circuit, which grew out of the need to squeeze navigational circuitry into the nose cone of the Minuteman missile. The inventions were made by individuals, but they reflect their needs and desires and the world in which they were living." That's why technology is as fresh as the daily news, why breakthrough technologies often tend to be invented by young people, and why old companies often fail to appreciate new technologies (think Xerox's inability to recognize the importance of personal computing and ignored the astonishing accomplishments of its West-coast PARC research facilities). How did that happen?

From Markoff: "In the company's defense, it is rare that a generation raised in one milieu understands the implication of the next generation of technology. Moreover, despite failing to benefit from the rise of personal computing, Xerox did profit handily
from the invention of laser printing, another technology pioneered at PARC." To understand the next generation of technology, you'll have to understand the next generation of people. Get to know a toddler.

John Markhoff -- What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry ISBN 0670033820
American Scientist via NewsScan.