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Thirty-five years ago today, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne signed a partnership agreement that established the company that will become Apple Computer, Inc. on January 3, 1977. (Wayne left the company eleven days later, relinquishing his ten percent share for US$2300). Steve Jobs told Stephen Segaller in Nerds 2.0.1:  (more…)

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In his book “The Tyranny of E-Mail,” author, John Freeman, has researched how 4,000 years of communication and technological breakthroughs have lead us to e-mail, a form of electronic communication that we can’t get away from.  Once broadband communication arrived, e-mail became the world’s most convenient communication tool.

Here are some facts about e-mail from Freeman’s book:

* The first e-mail was sent less than 40 years ago
* In 2007, 35 trillion messages were shot back and forth through 1 billion PCs
*  By 2011, there will be 3.2 billion e-mail users
* The average corporate worker receives > 200 e-mails per day and spends 40% of his/her time on e-mail each day
* Information overload is a $650 billion drag on the U.S. economy every year
* The tone of an e-mail is misunderstood 50% of the time

The History of E-Mail

Freeman quotes J.C.R. Licklider, an engineering professor at MIT and first director of the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency from a paper entitled “Man-Computer Symbiosis” where he wrote ” The hope is that in not too many years, human brians and computing machines will be coupled…tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today.”  Fifty years later, Freeman concludes that the day has arrived because to read an e-mail you have to be joined to a machine.

When Samuel Morse sent the first telegram in May 1844, the message was “What hath God  wrought.”  When the first e-mail was sent out by Ray Tomlinson using the @ symbol, it contained a random series of letters and numbers.  Or as Freeman writes: “In other words:  gibberish.  He just wanted to see if it would arrive and didn’t bother to type anything providential.”

The Affect on E-Mail on Us

Freeman proves in his book that we have “started reverse engineering our brains for speed, as opposed to mindfullness.”  He goes on to write that “Empirical evidence is flooding in regarding the ways that screen-based reading, which has grown from e-mail, is changing the way we read generally.  Eye-tracking studies have shown that people increasingly tend to leapfrog over long blocks of text.”

With handheld devices that give us 24/7 access to e-mail, there is pretty much no where that people do not pause to check it.  There is no downtime any more.  In fact, the word “crackberry” was Webster’s New World College Dictionary’s 2006 word of the year.  Freeman writes that we work in a climate of constant interruption.  Multi-tasking is a way of life that probably isn’t going to change back to the way things used to be when messages were sent by carrier pigeon.  In his last chapter “Don’t Send” Freeman offers some tips on how you can take back control of your in-box and your life.

Conclusion

This book was written to make you pause and think about what has happened to your life since you became continously available to others via e-mail.  It’s worth a read.  Especially the last chapter.  Think about this quote that begins the “Don’t Send” chapter.

“I’ve been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an e-mail address.  I’d used e-mail since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of e-mail is plenty for one lifetime.”  — Don Knuth, Stanford University

About This Book

Published by Scribner in October 2009.  It’s hardcover – 256 pages.  Cost is $25.00 (U.S.)

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plimpton_iNot directly (or perhaps even indirectly) related to High Tech History; but I just joined a fan group about Malcolm Gladwell on Facebook – and was thinking about the intricacies and vagaries of social networks. Nelson W. Aldrich Jr. edited the recently released “George, Being George: George Plimpton’s Life as Told, Admired, Deplored, and Envied by 200 Friends, Relatives, Lovers, Acquaintances, Rivals– and a Few Unappreciative Observers” and I was fascinated by the number and varieties of relationships he had with people – both famous and not so famous. Here’s my review, which I hope will prove interesting:

A Social Network all his Own

George, Being George: George Plimpton’s Life as Told, Admired, Deplored, and Envied by 200 Friends, Relatives, Lovers, Acquaintances, Rivals–and a Few Unappreciative Observers. Edited by Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr. 438 pp. N.Y., Random House, $30.00

Facebook and MySpace had nothing on George Plimpton. He was a unique and compelling social force who during his lifetime accumulated a richly diverse tapestry of “friends” – such as writers Norman Mailer, Terry Southern and William Styron; athletes Archie Moore and Alex Karras; socialites Nan Kempner and Edie Sedgwick, and numerous other intellectual, creative, and likewise intriguing personalities.

So it’s very fitting that the “Prologue” to Nelson Aldrich’s George, Being George offers accounts of how much George Plimpton enjoyed parades and fireworks. In fact, he once smuggled a suitcase of firecrackers out to his friend John Marquand’s home on Martha’s Vineyard and celebrated the 40th anniversary of his eminent literary periodical, the Paris Review with a grand pyrotechnic display. This is the perfect metaphor for Plimpton and his lifetime of exultation, as told by a pageant of more than two-hundred people who knew him – both intimately and casually.

Aldrich, a freelance writer and former Paris editor of the Paris Review, organizes the nearly four-hundred pages of passages – they each average around ten lines of text – so that the reader becomes an intimate at what resembles a salon setting featuring Plimpton’s family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. In many ways, the passages tend to say more about those who knew Plimpton than about Plimpton himself – he was the ever-courtly conduit through which others sought to realize their own talents, passions, and social ambitions. A recurring theme in George, Being George was that Plimpton was an attentive and sympathetic listener who genuinely cared about the lives of his friends and associates.

Plimpton’s New England patrician pedigree, together with an accent he himself described as “east coast cosmopolitan”, is discussed early and often; but Plimpton always seems to easily escape the burdens of such stuffy, synthetic and often superficial caricatures. From his schooling at Phillips Exeter Academy, Harvard and Cambridge; his days in Paris co-founding and editing the Review, and throughout his participatory journalism for Sports Illustrated magazine, Plimpton’s life is recalled as one that was energetically engaged in the search for authenticity – whether in the literary, athletic, or social arenas. 

Plimpton was willing to immerse himself in the worlds of others he sought to understand and appreciate.  In his book Shadow Box, his nose was bloodied in a boxing match with champion boxer Archie Moore, and in the course of his book Paper Lion, played quarterback for the Detroit Lions in a pre-season scrimmage – prior to which he stoically endures the traditional hazing rituals of an NFL rookie. In this sense, he became accessible to a wide spectrum of Americans; in fact, Plimpton would often tell the story of meeting a man with a ten-gallon hat at an airport who said the only book he ever read was Paper Lion. Some have called Plimpton’s variety of journalism “Mittyesque” after James Thurber’s daydreaming protagonist Walter Mitty; but this is too simplistic. Plimpton was an enthusiastic participant in whatever challenges he faced. 

Plimpton greatly enjoyed bringing together people from different worlds – and often did so at parties he hosted. His apartments became olios of people from all worlds – society figures, mafiosos, writers, and even the occasional First Lady. When he wanted to raise money for the Paris Review, he threw a series of “Revels”, which followed the same template and were generally very successful in attracting donors to keep the magazine going; which, from a financial standpoint, was a constant challenge.

Throughout this very entertaining account, Plimpton is shown as a man who defied categorization; he had innumerable interests, including a deep passion for literature and the arts, as well as sports; but his almost accidental fame was the result of what seemed to many to be a guileless and non ego-driven approach to his profession and to his life. On occasion, he may have inspired in others a certain envy or criticism in addition to respect and admiration; but overall, Plimpton accomplished much while remaining eminently likeable, and this, when added to his many achievements, is what will cause his legacy to endure.

— Christopher Hartman

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