Too Soon to Tell: Essays for the end of the Computer Revolution

David Alan Grier

Publisher Wiley
ISBN 978-0-470-08035-1
RRP £20.50
Reviewed by Sheila Bullas
Score 7 out of 10

Too Soon to Tell: Essays for the end of the Computer Revolution Seeing the uninspiring title of this book, I couldn't help wondering whether it was too soon for the author to write it. The title is taken from an old joke discussion between radicals following in 1945.

One asks the other: 'What do you think of the French Revolution'. The other replies: 'Too soon to tell'. The premise however is that when most people have a computer it is no longer a 'revolution' but business as usual.

The author suggests that the 'revolution' ended with an announcement in 2005 stating that 'the residents of the earth possessed 820 million operating personal computers and that number was projected to top 1 billion in 2007'.

He suggests that this is too recent to give enough of a proper perspective on the six decades of that revolution. To my delight, the book proved an interesting and readable book.

It is a personal history based around his own experiences, those of his father and of colleagues. His father was one of the revolutionaries, Thomas Stewart Grier, who became a Univac employee with the Sperry Rand Corporation in Minnesota.

Most of the events are, not surprisingly, about progress in the US although major advances elsewhere are included. It is much more than a description of events and technological progress and includes anecdotes that demonstrate the impact of rapid change on those involved and the general population.

David Alan Grier is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. This is a collection of essays half of which were written by David and published in a monthly column for Computer magazine. Starting with events in 1945, the content is arranged in roughly chronological order through to 2007.

To give you some flavour of the content, one essay tracks the use of computers in the music industry from a Univac programme written to 'sing' carols in 1958 to the recent demise of Napster. Another from his teaching career, David tells of the student who steps forward from the back of the class and, with a few keystrokes gets the programme working that the master had failed to demonstrate. 

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June 2009