book review: Next: The Future Just Happened

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Aug 19, 2021, 2:15:29 PMAug 19

Next: The Future Just Happened
Michael Lewis
2001; W. W. Norton & Company

Michael Lewis made his name with his book "Liar's Poker," wherein he
writes about his time working at Salomon Brothers and the excesses of
Wall Street in the 1980s. He is better known for "Moneyball" and "The
Big Short," both of which were made into movies. He usually writes
about financial topics, but occasionally he ventures into other areas,
such as in "The New New Thing," which is largely focused on an extensive
profile of Jim Clark, co-founder of Silicon Graphics and Netscape, as a
serial entrepeneur.

Given its title, one might think "Next" is about the failed computer
company. In fact, it purports to examine the Internet and the way it
has changed the way we live and work. It's important to remember the
context in which this book was released. Published in mid-2001, it
references Ebay and Amazon in passing without noting their eventual
prominence. Google, which had not yet achieved its dominance, is not
mentioned, nor are any other search engines, specific browsers, or the
move to the web in general. Youtube, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter,
Instragram, TikTok, et. al., and even MySpace have yet to be created.

Lewis devotes a large portion of the book to a teenager who was
investigated by the SEC for allegedly profiting from "pumping and
dumping," but in the end he was never charged. The case was obscure
even as it was happening. Another portion is spent profiling a teen
with no degree or credentials who supplies legal advice in chat rooms.
The file-sharing software Gnutella, now just a footnote in the genre, is
discussed along with its creator. After they lost their record
contract, the British band Marillion is offered as an illustration of
eliminating an intermediary and connecting directly with fans. A final
section has a lengthy discourse on Tivo and ReplayTV -- only
peripherally related to the Internet -- before pivoting to WebTV, which
faded into obscurity not long after this book released.

Lewis claims that these few instances are sufficient to make his points,
but his case would be bolstered by more examples. His assurance to the
contrary, this book fails in its objective. Even with allowances made
for that period in Internet development, Lewis' take seems quaint, even
somewhat naive; his prognostications vague and timid. None of his picks
have had any lasting impact. More trenchant predictions about the
implications of connecting the bulk of the population via computer
networks were made twenty and even thirty years prior to the publication
of this book, well before the Arpanet became the Internet.

People interested in Jonathan Lebed, Marcus Arnold, Gnutella, Marillion,
Tivo, or WebTV may find some relevant material. Fans of Michael Lewis
may want to read this book in the name of completeness. For others,
I do not recommand this book.

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