On the bus this morning to work I started reading Jonathan Zittrain‘s new book The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It. It looks like a really interesting argument for open, customizable systems (i.e., the current internet) over secure-but-sterile closed systems (i.e. AOL, the iPhone). But what caught my eye was this passage early in the first chapter:
Herman Hollerith was a twenty-year-old engineer when he helped to compile the results of the 1880 U.S. Census. He was sure he could invent a way to tabulate the data automatically, and over the next several years he spent his spare time devising a punch card system for surveyors to use. The U.S. Government commissioned him to tally the 1890 Census with his new system……It took only two and a half years to tally the 1890 census, compared to the seven years required for the 1880 census. Hollerith’s eponymous Tabulating Machine Company soon expanded to other governments’ censuses, and then to payroll, inventory, and billing for large firms like railroads and insurance companies.
Today, we know Hollerith’s firm as IBM.
IBM, of course, led the computing revolution by contributing to the development of mainframes (and, just as importantly, the sale of mainframes), which led to personal computers, which led to the widespread adoption of that academic curiosity “the internet,” which led to the development of blogging.
(Of course, blogging owes just as much of a debt to Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, but that’s another story).
So, after a long chain of connections, the decisions of the Founding Fathers have lead directly to you reading these words today!