What the Dormouse Said – John Markoff (2005)

The dormouse said ‘Feed your head!’ and it seems that plenty of folks were busy doing just that during the period chronicled by John Markoff in his new book What the Dormouse Said, subtitled ‘How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry.’ Markoff covers the period from about 1960 through 1975 in the Bay Area, especially at several Stanford labs. The strands that come together here are early LSD use (apparently triggered by one Myron Stoloroff who began evangelizing in the mid-fifties), Doug Engelbart’s efforts to ‘augment’ human intelligence with computers, and the community/anti-war efforts of one Fred Moore, who helped get the Homebrew Computer Club up and running.

Lots of other interesting characters & events flow through, including Stewart Brand, Jobs & Wozniak, est, Acid Tests and much more. I felt the book could have used just a bit more editing, as I found a few repetitions and a rushed ending, but still a good history of the time.

Bill Joy has a lengthy review/article on Markoff’s book in the MIT Technology Review, August 2005. Here’s one bit with Joy’s take on the drug angle; the question is whether it would have happened without them…

Some who read Markoff’s book may feel nostalgic for the drug culture that developed alongside the personal computer, but I do not. For me, the stories about drug experimentation are sad stories of a quest gone awry. The promise was that LSD and other drugs would expand our creativity. But like other abused substances, including alcohol and, now, in America, even food, they have largely brought us personal tragedy. In the end, drugs such as LSD and marijuana give most users, not new creativity, but merely the personal and temporary presumption of the new, and at great personal cost.

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  • By Mediated » Blog Archive » 2005 in Review on March 11, 2006 at 8:29 pm

    […] Finally on the history front – I found this year’s 1491 by Charles Mann to be very intriguing in its survey of the ‘new world’ prior to Columbus – apparently much more populated and complex than we had been taught! And covering more recent ground, What the Dormouse Said (2005) by John Markoff writes about the (at least partially) drug-fueled emergence of the silicon era, and Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm (2001) covers the Goldwater era and the rise of modern conservatism. […]

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