How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
You’re reading this on your or on your mobile phone, while listening to music or watching TV.
But, have you ever asked yourself how it all came to be? And why your grandparents didn’t have the pleasure of doing any of these things when they were your age?
And it’s time you learn at least a name or two.
Who Should Read “The Innovators”? And Why?
“The Innovators” is a book about technology written for the general public. This means that it presents complex ideas in a manner comprehensible even to someone only marginally familiar with the relevant concepts.
So, the more you know about computers and the internet, the less you might enjoy the book. Read it for the great story it tells if you are such a person. Read it because you should know the people the book talks about if you are an IT novice.
About Walter Isaacson
Walter Isaacson is an American journalist and author. He is a Professor of History at Tulane University, and a CEO of the Aspen Institute. In the past, he has also been the Chairman of CNN and the Managing Editor of “Time” magazine.
An exquisite storyteller, Isaacson has written few acclaimed biographies. The most notable among them are “Steve Jobs,” “Einstein,” and “Leonardo da Vinci.”
“The Innovators Summary”
In 1841, Scottish writer and philosopher Thomas Carlyle wrote that “the history of the world is but the biography of great men.” When Walter Isaacson wrote “Steve Jobs” few years back, he must have believed Carlyle.
Twenty years after Carlyle, the English polymath Herbert Spencer suggested otherwise. According to him, history is a collaboration. And all great men exist because of other great – and even not so great – men.
And that’s the starting point of “The Innovators.”
It’s a book that is quite difficult to summarize. It covers almost two centuries of history and talks about at least twenty different giants of innovation. The innovators are grouped around ten different innovations, and framed by two chapters dedicated to a forgotten pioneer.
Ada, the Countess of Lovelace.
The innovations discussed are, in sequence of almost standalone chapters, the computer, programming, the transistor, the microchip, video games, the internet, the personal computer, software, online, and the web.
The innovators are almost everybody who matters in the digital world, from Charles Babbage and Alan Turing, through John von Neumann and J. C. R. Licklider, to Steve Jobs and Wikipedia’s Jimbo Wales.
It’s really an amazing tour de force of historical research and technological savvy. of which only few writers are capable nowadays.
Isaacson’s greatest achievement in “The Innovators”, however, is something else. It’s his ability to connect seemingly unrelated episodes of history to show that the presence is deeply rooted in the past. In other words, Wikipedia didn’t start with Jimbo Wales or Tim Berners-Lee, but with Ada Lovelace and the Analytical Engine.
Don’t believe us?
Here’s just one of the many similar threads.
Microsoft Windows dominates the PC market. But, some of its best parts were inspired by Apple’s innovations. And it all began when IBM commissioned Microsoft to develop an operating system for their PCs in 1980s.
And here’s where it gets interesting!
You see, IBM wasn’t always called IBM. It was originally founded more than a century ago as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company. Which in turn, was what the Hollerith Electric Tabulating System evolved into.
Wondering what was there before it?
A US Census Bureau worker named Herman Hollerith. He believed that he could automatize the process of collecting and categorizing census data with punch cards.
Was that the first prototype for the modern computer?
Not by a long shot.
Enter the Analytical Engine imagined by Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. Who, by the way, was the only legitimate daughter of England’s first superstar poet, George Gordon Byron. Who…
But, wait… that’s a completely different story.
Key Lessons from “The Innovators”
1. Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
2. The Power of Collaborations
3. The Next Phase
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
If “The Innovators” can teach you one thing, it’s certainly this: starting from scratch is not an option. Not because you can’t – but because you shouldn’t.
No matter which discipline you’re interested in, somebody before you has already given you a head start. And when we say “head” – we do mean head.
Just think of that beautiful metaphor by Isaac Newton. If I have seen something more, he said, it was because I was a dwarf standing on the shoulder of giants.
Just as you can – because of these inventors.
The Power of Collaborations
They don’t say “two heads are better than one” for nothing. And “The Innovators” proves this over and over again.
Google needed both Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Apple wouldn’t have been Apple if there was only Steve Jobs – it needed a Steve Wozniak too. And as important as Bill Gates is, Microsoft’s “idea man” was actually Paul Allen.
The Next Phase
You can get a glimpse of the future if you got through enough volumes of history. And Walter Isaacson has done his fair share of historical research.
The next phase will mean the end of pouring old wines (books, songs, movies) into new digital bottles (eBooks, streaming services). It will be something different and totally unexpected.
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“The Innovators” QuotesThe computer and the Internet are among the most important inventions of our era, but few people know who created them. Click To Tweet Most of the innovations of the digital age were done collaboratively. Click To Tweet The Internet was originally built to facilitate collaboration. By contrast, personal computers, especially those meant to be used at home, were devised as tools for individual creativity. Click To Tweet The truest creativity of the digital age came from those who were able to connect the arts and sciences. Click To Tweet New platforms, services, and social networks are increasingly enabling fresh opportunities for individual imagination and collaborative creativity. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
“The Innovators” is a product of labor and love. So, much like the innovations it analyes. You know, those things you love so much because they facilitate your labor: the computer and the internet. The book is an epic account of their history, which is at times fascinating and eye-opening, and at times thrilling and moving. Not to mention, indispensable – at all times.
However, if you are not a fan of history, “The Innovators” is not for you. It is almost 600 pages long and abounds with names, biographies and connections which may tire you. In addition, if you want a more thorough approach, then you are surely not going to like Isaacson’s motto that getting into more details is the same as ruining a good story.
Now, it doesn’t matter if Isaacson’s right or not. The story he tells here, even if not flawless and exhaustive, is certainly a great one.