Why The Innovators?

Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution was just one of many books I considered assigning for the fall 2016 Honors Colloquia.

More than any other single, recent book, James Glick’s The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood1 influenced my understanding of the conceptual foundation for the “Information Age”—but it is too challenging.Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s The Second Machine Age- Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies is accessible, but more about economics than ideas. It does not provide a course platform that suits my interests and goals. Tim Wu’s The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires3 is readable and provocative. It has informed my perspective about our topics, but its theme—that each new information technology inevitably “take[s] its place to uphold the social structure that has been with us since the Industrial Revolution” and becomes “a highly centralized and integrated new industry”—is more polemical than I want for this course.Isaacson’s Steve Jobs is engaging, and a must-read for one interested in the development of digital technology—but I’ve been there and done that, assigning it for my first Honors Colloquia in Fall 2012. Jon Gertner’s The Idea Factory-Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation is a deep dive into Bell Lab’s remarkable history of cutting-edge innovation, from Information Theory to cell phones, but its focus is too narrow for my purposes.

So I assigned The Innovators, and it is a solid platform to support our exploration of a number of themes.

  1. Weird title, right? Why “The Information?” Why not “Information?” What’s this about a flood? It makes sense when you read it.
  2. This does not mean it is too challenging for a class of Questrom sophomores. It means the book, in places, stretches my comprehension to its limits.
  3. Note the popularity of compound titles, e.g. My Book: And Here’s More Information to Capture Your Attention.
  4. Which does not mean I oppose polemics, or disagree with Wu’s arguments.