Computer has become one of the most important technological innovations of all time. There is hardly any sphere of human (and increasingly post-human) activity that has not been at least touched by the introduction of computers. In recent years especially, computers have infiltrated almost every aspect of our daily lives, and almost every electrical appliance that sits in our homes (think of a vacuum cleaner, TV, fridge) has some form of imbedded computational activity. The more 'stand alone' computational devices have also proliferated, and soon the majority of the cell phones for instance will be 'smartphones'. For a while I was keeping count of all the computers that I had in my home, but after a while I had lost track. At the same time, computational power is getting increasingly delocalized, and in coming years we'll probably see the full impact of the so-called cloud computing.
All of these considerations are at the forefront in 'The Computer: A Very Short Introduction.' It covers a lot of topics that are currently relevant in various spheres of the information science. The chapters include 'The ubiquitous computer,' 'The global computer,' 'The insecure computer,' 'The could computer,' and several others. Chapters are organized thematically and they cover some very interesting concepts. However, unfortunately one thing that is least talked about in this small book is the one that is mentioned in its very title: the computer itself. Reading this book felt like reading a book on cars that talks about highways, gas stations, drive-through fast food joints, road trips, car burglaries, etc., but hardly at all goes under the hood of the car. The fact that computers have become so ubiquitous that we hardly give them second thought in my opinion means that there is even more demand for going back to basics and learning about what really makes a computer ' computer. Unfortunately, this book does not deliver on that account.
Another issue that I have with this book is that it's not very insightful. The choice of topics that are covered in each chapter is more suitable for a series of popular articles in a local daily newspaper than for an academically based accessible short introduction. Furthermore, many of the topics and the way they are covered feel stale and naïve, as if they were written by someone who arrived from the 1990s (or earlier) and is marveling at all the new technological developments. A typical paragraph starts as follows: 'When I go for my lunch, I pass a colleague who has a small, flat, computer-based device in his hand. It's an e-reader.' Most of the material in the book seems to have been picked up from other popular books on technology, such as 'The Long Tail' and 'The Innovator's Dilemma.' In other words, there is nothing in this book that you couldn't pick up from an online tech blog, and in most cases those blogs would be much more contemporary and insightful. Technology moves really quickly, and this short book already feels dated at the time of its publishing.
This has been a rather disappointing short introduction. I read books in this series in order to further my knowledge or gain a different insight on topics that I am already familiar with. This book has been a failure on both of those accounts.