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You think that you understand technology but when you arrive at The Known World, you discover a land where software pirates sail the seven seas, Derek the Rocket Scientist holds a communal barn raising to install his solar roof, and the future of technology policy is perpetually debated by the Society for the Promotion of Goodness and its rival, the Association for the Prevention of Bad Things.  These are some of the people and institutions that populate The Known World and help explain the nature of society and technology.

This blog contains the essays of David Alan Grier, which appear each month to discuss the ideas, the culture and the stories of the digital age. These blog postings and podcasts come from the column of the same name in Computer.

This podcast is brought to you by Computer magazine, the flagship publication of the IEEE Computer Society.

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Entries with tag computing milieu.

Uncharted Territory

Innovation is not always a calm thing.  It can challenge our fundamental way of looking at the world and leave us not entire certain of our position.  A recent talk by a friend on his new ideas for organizing work led to a disruptive evening and an lingering question that hovers over everything that we do.  


Theme Parks

Several commentators have noted that the growth of theme parks has an interesting parallel in the current growth of video games.  As I noted in Leisure Science, the first amusment parks were activities of electric ultilities or electric trolly lines as means of expanding their business.   (There is a less capital intense precursor to this movement, called Sanitary Cemetary or Memorial Park movement that occured in the late 19th century.  It was an effort to turn cemetaries into places where would engage in recreation - walking the area admiring memorial art.  It is, however, not really an industrial effort.)

Many American cities have an old amusement park that was built by a trolley or utility.  In Washinton DC, it is Glen Echo Park on the west side of the city.  As business opportunities changed, these parks tended to slip into oblivion.  A few like Glen Echo remain as community centers.  As video games remain highly popular, it is hard to project their demise, but the world spins on its access and every product has its day.  They will likely evolve into new forms for entertainment.  However, we are already seeing groups that are attempting to preseve old video games and keep them accessible to the public.  Keeping Pong alive may not be the same thing as offering folk dancing classes at Glen Echo, but it does suggest one of the arcs of this technology. 


Leisure Science

The ideas of industrialization have long influenced other fields including that of leisure.  We have long been used to organized liesure activities that involve large amounts of a capital and the coordiated actions of works.  Afterall, major league sports are nothing more than industrial games.  

We have spent much time looking at the influence of liesure on industry but that influence has been growthing through the medium of computer games in all their forms.  Hence we have a podcast on the subject of Leisure Science or the Leisurization of Industry.


Earthquakes in DC and Cupertino

 DC got hit with an earthquake this week.  With a few exceptions, it was more thrilling than painful.  It imparted the feeling that you had done something slightly dangerous.  We are, of course, grateful that no one was killed even hurt seriously.

Cupertino got its own earthquake this week in the departure of Steve Jobs.  No matter how you view it, it is a milestone.  One of the key leaders of the industry is exiting the scene.  It is an event that causes us to take a historical perspective even though the view may not be clear at this point.  We think of Jobs as changing the technology and the market for that technology but not the institutions for the industry.  We don't group him with Gould or Vanderbilt or Paterson or even Rockefeller from the guilded age.  Or compare him to Watson or Sloan from the 20th century.  

Yet, as we look closer, we may find more commonalities between Jobs and those business leaders than might appear on the surface.  Jobs may not have been an innovator to the corporate structure but he may prove to have engaged in more fundamental restructuring than any of those earlier leaders.  He got computing technology into the hands of creative people.  He emparted a vision of what that technology could to to them and ultimately pulled those people into the productive infrastructure in a new way.  I am writing this note at home while working with virtually everything that is important to my work, including IEEE Computer Society in California, documents in a variety of repositories and a jazz radio station in San Francisco.  We live a global life that only a few could exploit a decade ago.  It is a structural change that requires us to handle abstractions quickly and cross cultural borders with a new kind of sophistication.  

Jobs was certainly one of the driving forces behind it.  

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Blogs of Note

Out Of Print: Notes from the IEEE-CS Director of Publications and Services

IT History: A blog by Paul Ceruzzi of the Smithsonian

David Alan Grier

David Alan Grier is a computer scientist, an established observer of the technology industry and a writer on issues of science and society.  In addition to producing The Known World, he has written two books,  When Computers Were Human, (Princeton University Press, 2005), which is the story of the workers who did scientific calculation before we had electronic computers.  In addition he has published Too Soon to Tell: Essays for the End of the Computer Revolution, (John Wiley/IEEE Computer Society, 2009).  A video of When Computers Were Human can be found here while a brief talk about Too Soon to Tell is found here. 

He is currently an associate professor at the Center for International Science and Technology Policy at the George Washington University.  

Despite sharing a common hometown and a common birth year with David Alan Grier the actor, he is an entirely different person.