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How Computers Transformed Baby Boomers 182

theodp writes "Newsweek's Steven Levy takes a look at how the baby boomer generation formed our tech landscape. Many of the realities boomers grew up with are today's metaphors, including cut-and-paste, the origin of which the 56-year-old Levy had to explain to 20-something Google employees. Levy cites two texts as crucial in pushing the boomers' vision toward power-to-the-people computing — Ted Nelson's Computer Lib/Dream Machines, which inspired Mitch Kapor, and the January 1975 Popular Electronics, which got Bill Gates jazzed. You kids might want to check out Dad's bookshelf — used copies of Computer Lib are going for $130-$225 at Amazon."
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How Computers Transformed Baby Boomers

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  • I've got a copy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SiliconEntity ( 448450 ) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @02:47PM (#20627429)
    I had no idea that CL/DM was selling for so much. I just checked my shelf, I bought a copy for $18.95 in 1992 at the local university bookstore - the sticker's still on it.

    I wonder why it's so expensive? The book is terrible, virtually unreadable. Ted Nelson is a nutcase by all reports. Look at the repeated failures of his Xanadu idea.

    I guess I should probably sell it; it has no value to me and $150-200 would be pretty nice.
    • Re:I've got a copy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Svartalf ( 2997 ) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @03:38PM (#20627833) Homepage
      It has less to do with him being a nutcase and more to do with the stuff he was rambling on about
      being well ahead of it's time. Heh... Some nutcase-you're using the same stuff he's talking about
      in that flip-flop book to make the post calling him a nutball- it's just not the full monty as it
      were. Hyper-G was closer, much closer, but they made a mistake in making the reference implementation
      proprietary, whereas NCSA made the first HTTP server effectively open source and the child of that
      implementation is the #1 web server right at the moment.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Felius ( 56017 )
        nitpick: NCSA HTTPd *wasn't* the first web server - it did appear very early on, but Tim Berners-Lee wrote the first web server at CERN (which is obvious, when you think about it..)
    • Unless the writer has access to the sales history, it shouldn't have said that the books are going at going at $150-200. The books are simply listed at that price.

      The big prices show something that is true of a large number of computer books. When the books are out of print they can shoot way up in price. Often you will find some poor schmuck having to support a legacy program and they are willing to spend a good deal of money on used books.

      If you happen to have computer books for older versions of so
    • Demonstrating the workings of market economics combined with the Slashdot effect, the price of CL/DM suddenly dropped to $5.

    • "I wonder why it's so expensive?"

      Because scarcity is like heroin to booksellers. We are cutthroat savages every last one of us.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Sorry, he may have been (and still be) a nut case, but the book was 100% pure inspiration to me and lots of others of my generation. The idea that computers should be *personal* was shocking back then. I have no doubt the ideas in that book helped get me into MIT. And the graphics section was basically how I got into CG. I have a lot of fond memories thanks to that book. Thanks, Ted, wherever you are!
    • by macshit ( 157376 )
      I had no idea that CL/DM was selling for so much. I just checked my shelf, I bought a copy for $18.95 in 1992 at the local university bookstore - the sticker's still on it.

      I wonder why it's so expensive? The book is terrible, virtually unreadable. Ted Nelson is a nutcase by all reports.

      Seriously... I checked out this book in my university library in oh, like 1987 or so (because I had heard a lot of the hype about Xanadu) and my general impression was "this is really stupid." It's got to be the most absurdl
      • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )

        It's got to be the most absurdly over-hyped book ever.

        And yet you remember cheking it out of the library twenty years ago. It must have made some impression other than, "this is really stupid."

        • by macshit ( 157376 )

          It's got to be the most absurdly over-hyped book ever.
          And yet you remember checking it out of the library twenty years ago. It must have made some impression other than, "this is really stupid."
          It didn't though. That is the impression that remains.
      • by lahi ( 316099 )
        It is a big shame that so many people here seem to be eager to dismiss the book. Perhaps you forget to realize the fact that the MS Press edition was a thorougly updated and much reduced revision of the original. The original CL/DM was published in 1974, and at that time it truly must have been revolutionary! Its original format and style was inspired very much by the "Whole Earth Catalog" by Stewart Brand. The new edition in 1987 was not intended as an expression of new material or ideas (although it did m
  • Scrollbars (Score:5, Funny)

    by jesser ( 77961 ) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @02:47PM (#20627431) Homepage Journal
    Did baby boomers use scrolls [], too?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2007 @03:03PM (#20627549)
    Apparently the Boomers were responsible for everything, including all technology! Nevermind that your parents don't know the first thing about computers.
    • Almost anything that has been built in history, great and small, can excite a few, but until it is adopted by the masses it is nothing.

      Of course, computers used to fill entire rooms and governments and businesses adopted them but as I see it, my generation (usually referred to as Generation X) made up a large portion of the early adopters of personal computers and computing devices. We were the first people to buy or build computers that cost more than the car that we drove or would cost several months o
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by dharmadove ( 1119645 )
        I'm 51, a boomer and would have to disagree with you totally. Been there, done that. I've been using computers since I was 13 (big iron). Try to take the credit "Gen-X" but that's a joke. I started with an IMSAI, Kim-1, and my first pre built PCs were an Apple-II, TRS-80 and Pet. I've been online since the using ARPNET, Compuserve, email and bbs's since the 70's. Heck, my Dad was using a TRS-80 at home and later a Color Computer by 1982. He was 36 years older than me. Plenty of Apple-II's, TRS-80's, Pets,
        • by no_pets ( 881013 )
          As you mention, you used big iron at 13. That is definitely not the masses nor is it personal computing. Sure, there was an elite few in the 70s but it wasn't until the very end of the 70s early 80s that real personal computing was starting to be adopted by the masses.

          Of course, my anecdotal evidence will not be the same as everyone else, especially since I grew up in a very small, rural town in the Midwest. I only know of one Boomer that had an Apple that she used for her work at a community college. He
          • So according to your theory the generation that deserves credit for the PC is the generation that popularized it? If "almost nobody" had personal computers when you started college in 1989 who do you suppose that computer shop you took your brand new credit card to was selling computers to? Or were they just waiting for you to arrive and thereby popularize the computer age? They must have been awfully grateful that you finally showed up.

            By 1984, when you bought your TRS-80 at a yard sale (no doubt dropped o
  • by david.given ( 6740 ) <> on Sunday September 16, 2007 @03:12PM (#20627623) Homepage Journal

    ...and it works spectacularly well.

    The modern version works like this: you need a photocopier, your source material, a pair of scissors, and a stick of solid glue. Photocopy all your source materials. Cut them up. Stick them onto a blank piece of paper in the order you want. Photocopy. All the seams miraculously vanish, and you end up with an extremely professional-looking end result.

    It's a great deal easier than scanning and using a DTP package, it's faster, and it can also produce better results depending on your photocopier and scanner. I wouldn't use it for anything that needed to be stored for long periods of time --- your template is fragile and will fall apart if stored --- but for quickly putting together posters, exam questions (I inherited the technique from my father, who was a teacher), simple fliers, news clipping collections etc, it's first rate.

    Don't get glue on the photocopier plate. It'll never come off.

    • I've also seen this done at my last teaching job. It was easy to spot the less computer savvy teachers, as they'd spend time playing with paper and scissors around the photocopier, while the rest of us would mostly go there to get our printouts. In fact I rarely witnessed any actual pasting, as those used to the idea would simply assemble their work freely floating on the plate. This eliminates the glue issue, but the result is always a little off since you can't directly see your work.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Skadet ( 528657 )
      I can't tell if you're being a little snarky or not, but I wanted to add anyway. I worked in a copy center for a number of years, and copy and paste (the manual kind) is more common in non-professional publishing than one might think.

      A few tips, while we're at it: don't worry about getting the seams glued down. They'll show up anyway -- lighten the document, or if your copier supports it, decrease the contrast and increase the brightness. If you're working on a relatively recent and well-kept copier, you
      • Not at all snarky --- I'm quite serious! The more I use computers, the more I appreciate techniques that don't use them...

        We used a dab of solid glue in the middle of each stuck-on section, just to hold it in place. (Pritt-Stick, usually.) That stuff's excellent because you can just pull it apart again to rearrange. We never had any problems with visible seams, but then in those days it was all analog copiers in high-contrast mode, and putting the lid down would flatten the copy sufficiently. When photocop

      • by jhines ( 82154 )
        The best paste is rubber cement. The buzz alone was worth it.

        From the old hs newspaper days, when everything had to be sent out for typesetting, and then returned for cut up, and pasting for the master, which was shipped back for printing. Computers printed on teletypes or line printers,
        Selectrics were the typewriter to have.
    • by cprael ( 215426 )
      "Glue stick"?

      Hell, I think I've still got a hot wax rig and roller in the garage someplace.

      And unless you're careful about your assembly, and get the edges right, the seams do NOT miraculously vanish. They're quite visible, actually.
    • This old skool method works well, especially if you have a a scanner and Photoshop.
    • by Hettch ( 692387 )
      I seriously cannot tell if you're being sarcastic or not. But, thanks for the info, i guess?

      I think this just speaks loudly about my (our, i'm guessing) current generation and the way we've grown up with the web and computers. It's amazing that we can be marveled by techniques that were and still are so common place. Maybe I should consider myself lucky that I grew up with a parent who taught because i spent many a day in the educational resource centers helping create handouts, transparencies, and lamin
    • I've done this as well, but cut and paste predates photocopiers.

      In the old days of typesetting machines, the output would be on a one line paper tape. The setup person would cut the paper tape and glue it to a larger paper to make paragraphs. This was then photographed on a type of film whose name escapes me now, but it had exactly two tones, black and white. By adjusting the exposure, all the seams and any dust or marks could be made to disappear. The phontnegative would then be contact printed onto
  • by nutshell42 ( 557890 ) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @03:23PM (#20627709) Journal
    Many 19th century inventions invented by 19th century inventors. Film at 11.
  • ...cut-and-paste, the origin of which the 56-year-old Levy had to explain to 20-something Google employees

    I call B.S. on this one. Anyone dumb enough not to figure out where "cut and paste" came from doesn't deserve a job (must less a promotion to second grade).
    • by vic-traill ( 1038742 ) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @04:51PM (#20628463)

      I call B.S. on this one. Anyone dumb enough not to figure out where "cut and paste" came from doesn't deserve a job (must less a promotion to second grade).

      Well, I can't speak to 20-something google employees, but when I acquired a 1930's Underwood typewriter a couple of years ago, the 12 year old son of a friend looked at it and asked what it was. I asked him what it looked like, and he replied that it looked something like a keyboard. He didn't know what a typewriter was.

      Admittedly the kid is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I suspect that he's reasonably representative of his peer group.

      Now that I think about it, the second graders might do better than a 12 year old. They're not heading into that teen recalcitrant thing and their imagination hasn't been spiked yet.

      • I think it's hard to imagine how kids are perceiving these things. I know kids in their late teens who use computers every day, but who don't really even understand what a command line is. They don't remember what computers were like before Windows 95 came out. They don't really remember there ever not being an Internet, and barely remember what dial-up was like before their parents got cable/DSL.

        What I'm trying to point out is the degree to which they take these things for granted. For them, "cut" and

    • I call "old man" on you. Maybe someone who actually _cares_ where terms come from would take the time to think about what it originally meant. Most people don't give a crap. Including geeks.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )
      Speaking as a 20-something Slashdot reader, I can almost see the scene. It's not that the person would not have been familiar with physical cut and paste operations (at the very least, they'd have done them at school), but a lot of people seem very bad at connecting related things.

      My pet peeve is UNIX programmers who don't understand the origin of the fork() system call. You can't properly understand a system unless you understand why it was designed the way it was.

      • My pet peeve is UNIX programmers who don't understand the origin of the fork() system call.

        OK, I'll bite. What's the origin and how is it relevant?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Bluesman ( 104513 )
          Well, before there was fork(), Unix (well, Multics) had to make do with chopsticks(), which worked fine, but didn't check if there was enough memory to actually create the new process, so a lot of brand new processes would get dropped almost instantly, especially if the user wasn't adept at using chopsticks() and didn't realize what was going on. Another drawback was that you had to start a new version of chopsticks() every time you rebooted and type in all of the required command line arguments.

    • by Aladrin ( 926209 )
      Or maybe they just stared dumbfounded at him for even suggesting someone might not understand what the words meant, and he just assumed that meant he was smarter than them, instead of the reverse.

      Or maybe they were sick of his examples and decided to let him explain everything, all the time, just to see how stupid it got.

      Or maybe it just doesn't matter?
    • by metlin ( 258108 )
      Okay, I'll bite.

      I can hazard a guess or two on the origins of cut-and-paste based on the term and its possible etymology, but no, I cannot say for certain where it came from.

      And why do you think I would have to? And what makes you think that I should know where it came from?
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by heinousjay ( 683506 )
        Because you can't properly appreciate how easy you have it unless old people know that you understand it used to be harder. It's the stage before you chase kids off your lawn.
      • I think the whole idea of there being "an" etymology for "cut and paste" is ridiculous. Yes, the original interface designers called it that because people would understand that, and they'd undertand it at that time because they may have cut and paste with typewriters. So? It's not like the term is meaningless if you haven't cut-and-paste while typewriting before. It's not like a designer would pick a different term for it, if he had been born in 1990.

        I'm about the age of the typical google employee. I
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @03:38PM (#20627831) Homepage

    Railroads and electricity made much bigger changes in people's lives. Before railroads, most people spent their lives within 50 miles of their birthplace. Before electricity, it was, well, dark at night almost everywhere. Huge amounts of effort went into activities like basic cooking and cleaning clothes.

    The changes between 1850 and 1900 were far, far greater than those between 1950 and 2000. In communications, in 1950 we had radio, television, teletype, and telephones. Even newspaper delivery via broadcast radio fax, although that never really caught on. Most important info was getting to its destination fast. Most of the communication things you can do today, you could do in 1950, but more expensively.

    • The fact that I can call you a moron at my discretion should prove the point.
  • levy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sdedeo ( 683762 ) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @03:40PM (#20627847) Homepage Journal
    Steven Levy deserves a lot of credit for his book Hackers, which was the first place to publicly discuss "the hacker ethic []." He really "got" a lot of the things that journalists today still don't get. You can disagree with a lot of what he says, and his "ethic" list is a little goofy, but as a "third" generation hacker (someone who grew up hacking on an Apple ][e), I found his interpretation of what was going on in the golden age deeply insightful. IMO, "computer journalism" has never really produced someone like him again -- today it's all David Pogue type "gadget reviewers" who really don't get what was, and still is, revolutionary about computing and the people involved in it.
  • by toby ( 759 ) * on Sunday September 16, 2007 @03:43PM (#20627871) Homepage Journal
    And hop in the DeLorean... we're going back to 1975 to make sure Popular Electronics never prints that issue...
  • by UserGoogol ( 623581 ) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @06:10PM (#20629073)
    I feel it should be pointed out that there are Boomers and then there are Boomers. Many of the most influential Baby Boomers for personal computers were born more or less in the mid fifties. They were barely teenagers when Woodstock happened and they became eligible for the draft just around the time America left Vietnam. To call them Baby Boomers isn't exactly wrong, (some demographers call them Generation Jones, but it's all bullshit anyway) but to lump them in with those "damned self-important idealists" as some of the other posters are doing is unfair, since by the time these guys came of age, the idealism had already begun to go the other way.
  • by Big wet dog ( 1157665 ) on Sunday September 16, 2007 @08:05PM (#20630213)
    The 'Facebook' generation is calling the 'Boomer' generation self-absorbed? Honestly, is there anything more self-centered than MySpace and Facebook?
    • Yes (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rix ( 54095 )
      Facebook is something used occasionally for that specific purpose. Boomers are like that 24/7/365.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Boomers start wars. Gen X and Y have to actually fight them. You can understand some resentment.
      • by Khomar ( 529552 )

        Boomers start wars. Gen X and Y have to actually fight them. You can understand some resentment.

        Not to mention neglecting their children, undermining the education system, off-shoring their jobs, and wracking up a national debt that their great-grandchildren will be trying to pay off. They continue to ignore the problems of Social Security and Medicare and had the gall to add on prescription drugs to an already massively overburdened Medicare budget. When faced with the terrible reality of the mess that

  • by Felius ( 56017 )

    "You kids might want to check out Dad's bookshelf -- used copies of Computer Lib are going for $130-$225 at Amazon."

    Just for the record, kids - you try pulling this shit and Dad will spank your arse, no matter whether you're bigger than him now or not.
  • Didn't he find it odd that people who actually ran computer companies couldn't see it that way? "There's some benefit to youth," he says. "It's a lot like physicsEinstein saw relativity, the others didn'tbut then he didn't understand quantum dynamics, that next generation came along, and he became the old guard.

    I wonder if Gates realizes how much this might apply to his company (old guard) versus open source / open standards (next generation)?

    Meh. I imagine he pays someone to write his crap, anyway. He co

  • including cut-and-paste, the origin of which the 56-year-old Levy had to explain to 20-something Google employees.

    I guess all that drinking 19th century wines and fucking whores on piles of $100 bills must have erased their memory of kindergarten.
  • Speaking of anacharisms, why do we still have telephone numbers at all? They should be hidden like IP numbers are hidden beneath web addresses and domain names. people who work exclusively with cells pretty much do that now. After the initial connection, you just automatically add the clller to your directory.
  • As a boomer I was bored when my parents or grandparents were told me how they did things in their time. I'm sure digressing about pubch cards, floppy disks, and command lines must bore the hell out of most kids these days.
  • I have a collection of slide rules which includes the model of Pickett 8" slide rule that was carried to the moon back in the day (not the actual slide rule, I hasten to add, just the same model). My 20-something son, who works as a network technician, asked me how they worked and so I demonstrated putting the "1" on the "C" scale over the "2" on the "D" scale and then the cursor over 2, 3, 4, etc. on the "C" scale to demonstrate multiplication.

    He looked at it for a few moments and then asked, "Why didn't y

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