Author: gleick

“The Telephone Transformed—Into Practically Everything”

  “I carry around one of these little boxes,” says a Motorola executive, Al Zabarsky, “and get every day, besides my personalized mail, clippings from services that clip according to your temperament, from companies that specialize in original source material—whatever you guys in the business call it.” We used to call it news, Al. It’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of this New York Times Magazine cover story. In other words, it was written fourteen years before the arrival of the iPhone. Does it hold up? You be the judge. I mentioned in the opening paragraph a new and little-known communications medium called “electronic mail.” I said, “Our sense of what can be private and what must be public is being overhauled under our noses.” I claimed: Well into its second century, the telephone has begun a transformation more profound than any in its history—dragging with it much of our other technological baggage, including the computer, the fax machine, the clock, the pager, the compass, the stock ticker and the television. Pager? Stock ticker? That was a …

Oop: Time Travelers Missing from My Book Time Travel

The odds that anyone’s favorite time travelers appear in the pages of Time Travel are, unfortunately, less than 100%. Perhaps much less. Some readers are already, graciously, pointing out the omissions. One such is Alley Oop, the caveman hero of the comic strip with that name, created by V. T. Hamlin in 1932. He was not a time traveler right from the start. At first he was just a caveman. But let Perry Bowker explain. He is a reader from Burlington, Ontario, and he has the whole story: I want to point out a possible addition to the Philosophers and Pulps” chapter … I refer to the comic strip “Alley Oop,” which ran in daily papers from the 1930s to the present. The strip took its ultimate shape in the 1939 when the artist, V. T. Hamlin, introduced a peculiar time machine which had the ability to reach into the past, transporting caveman Oop from his prehistoric home, and later shuttling he and companions back and forth to various historic eras. Having quickly absorbed 20th century …

Annals of Internet Porn: 1995

[First published in The New York Times Magazine, June 11, 1995, under the headline “This Is Sex?”A version of this essay appears in What Just Happened.] AT FIRST GLANCE, THERE’S a lot of sex on the Internet. Or, not at first glance—nobody can find anything on the Internet at first glance. But if you have time on your hands, if you’re comfortable with computing, and if you have an unflagging curiosity about sex—in other words, if you’re a teen-ager—you may think you’ve suddenly landed in pornography heaven. Nude pictures! Foul language! Weird bathroom humor! No wonder the Christian Coalition thinks the Internet is turning into a red-light district. There’s even a “Red Light District” World Wide Web page. The battle cry of the online voyeur is “Host Contacted—Waiting for Reply” So we explore. Some sites make you promise to be a grown-up. (O.K.: you promise.) You try “Girls,” a link leading to a computer at the University of Bordeaux, France. The message flashes back: Document Contains No Data. “Girls” at Funet, Finland, seems to offer …

Her Majesty Defines Time

Removing doubts about the meaning of time is an ambitious goal, but not too ambitious for the Queen and Parliament of Britain in 1880. They enacted the “Statutes (Definition of Time) Act” to settle the matter once and for all. So now we know. Or do we?