Book: Being Digital

Being Digital
Authors:Nicholas Negroponte Manufacturer:Knopf Released:31 January, 1995 Rating: C-

This book presents an interesting cover design that looks snazzy. Unfortunately it’s content doesn’t age as well as it’s outside. Nicholas seems to meander throughout this book, hitting in some places and missing in others. He starts with a rant about TV, which doesn’t seem to be where someone would start with a title like Being Digital. Overall, he seems to hit on some of his predictions, and misses wildly on others. Of course I have the benefit of actually being in the future, but it seems too much like shotgun prophesy to me. If you hit everything once, you’re bound to hit something right.

Don’t get me wrong, Negroponte starts from some valid points: protocols should be flexible, they should communicate in order to figure out what language to talk in, and then communicate as quickly as possible. The negotiation of protocols is an interesting subject, because while it allows for the use of new technology where it is available, it also forces everyone into the handshaking protocol. It’s like speaking to someone and going through all of the languages you both know - “Parle vu francais?, Sprechen sie deutsch?” until you get to a language you both can talk. This is fine, but in the world of programming, you need to define the protocol for determining the protocol. Anyone see a problem here? It’s a good point, but it only took an entire chapter.

Negroponte seems to like to pontificate on anything and everything in the book, starting of course with the past. Reading a history for every technology under the sun that shouldn’t be known already, I think the only major advance that was left out was the Internet itself. After all of this, it’s time to take a shot at the future. Of course, the best way to get something right is to take a shot at everything. With writing that seems to have wonderlust as a prerequisite, Being Digital ends up covering almost every part of the technological spectrum. Of course there are some hits, but there are a lot of misses. Too much entertainment, not enough integration was my basic feelings after finishing this book. I admit that I have the gift of hindsight, but even taking that into account, there just didn’t seem to be enough justification for the predictions that were made.

Making his predictions aren’t the end of this though, they just lead toward something he really wants to get to. In the end, Negroponte starts pontificating about what it really means to be digital, and his answer was very off base if you ask me. I just wasn’t very thrilled with this book, it’s not making the grade on reasoning. C-