James Gleick   What Just Happened  
James Gleick  
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Read an essay by James Gleick


Once upon a time, technology existed in a subculture, in worlds populated by scientists, mathematicians and computer geeks. Today larger society subsumed this subculture. Innovations still persist at a rapid rate, but somehow the larger world has caught up. In What Just Happened, a collection of essays published over the past decade, James Gleick traces the development of technology from its modern infancy to today.

Technology changed, and continues to change, the way we communicate with each other and engage with the larger world. In "The Telephone Transformed into Almost Everything", Gleick demonstrates how the advent of modern technology came with the invention of the telephone. He addresses the new etiquette we have developed when speaking to those absent interlocutors (answering machines) and public cell phone use. Before lines of communication connected our computers, fax machines enabled the transmittal of documents, and cell phones made us reachable at any given moment, we had to wait. Time has sped up.

Space has changed as well. Technology has shrunken the globe, or allowed for an infinitesimal number of connections uniting individuals continents away. Online communities form and reform irrespective of geographic location. In "Chasing Bugs from the Electronic Village," Gleick revisits an early community in which he played an integral role. The Gadflies, a group of technophiles beta-testing CompuServe programs, helped to uncover quirks and foibles of these programs. They communicated with each other electronically to discuss these bugs. Like the Gadflies, today one click separates us from relatives and friends living continents away. A new lexicon accompanies this change in the way we communicate. Technological and media-heavy words permeate our language. Adieu Esperanto. The colloquialisms and symbols of the Internet (LOL, ; ) and IMHO) have become the new universal language. The now-pedestrian interface of Windows, Adobe and Apple, are the codes that connect us to our work, and ultimately, to each other.

A new kind of corporate culture, situated on campuses and clad in khakis emerged with this new technology. Microsoft, a force behind the democratization of personal computers, is the focus of an essay that examines this new breed of business. Gleick also explores the business aspect of the Internet by delving into issues surrounding the commerce that fuels it: the phenomenon of eBay, blanket marketing emails, or spam, and the development of the online marketplace.

In this issue of Bold Type, Gleick addresses some of the topics he delves into in What Just Happened in a revealing Q & A. "Big Brother is Us," an essay that examines surveillance, privacy and technology, can also be found here in its entirety.

--Beth Weinstein

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