A screenshot of the Longform App in a stylized iPhone

Our Free New App for iPhone and iPad

  • Every pick from Longform.org
  • Follow any publisher or writer
  • All articles available offline
Download on the App Store

Early Computing

26 articles
Avatar_57x57

The Curse of Xanadu

Ted Nelson's Xanadu project began in 1960 and was supposed to be the universal, democratic hypertext library that would help human life evolve into an entirely new form. It didn't go that way.

Update: The software was finally, quietly released in April.

Avatar_57x57

Mother Earth Mother Board

A 42,000-word, 3-continent spanning “hacker tourist” account of the laying of the (then) longest wire on earth.

Avatar_57x57

Atari Teenage Riot

A “crude table-tennis arcade game” called Pong and the birth of the video game industry.

Avatar_57x57

The Stupidity of Computers

A history of the divide between computing and language, and why we “define and regiment our lives, including our social lives and our perceptions of our selves, in ways that are conducive to what a computer can ‘understand.’”

Avatar_57x57

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit

How technological progress slowed from its 20th-century peak, why we’ve shifted from changing reality to simply simulating reality, and whether capitalism is the true culprit.

Avatar_57x57

Return to Sender

Shiva Ayyadurai told the world he invented email. Not everyone agreed.

Avatar_57x57

The Lost Steve Jobs Tapes

From failure to Pixar, Steve Jobs’ “wilderness years.”

Avatar_57x57

Inside the High Tech Hunt for a Missing Silicon Valley Legend

When computer science legend Jim Gray disappeared, his friends and colleagues – including Bill Gates and Larry Ellison – used every technological tool at their disposal to try to find him.

Avatar_57x57

My First Flame

An early take on the dark side of cyberspace:

Like many newcomers to the "net"--which is what people call the global web that connects more than thirty thousand on-line networks--I had assumed, without really articulating the thought, that while talking to other people through my computer I was going to be sheltered by the same customs and laws that shelter me when I'm talking on the telephone or listening to the radio or watching TV. Now, for the first time, I understood the novelty and power of the technology I was dealing with.
Avatar_57x57

Steve Jobs, Apple CEO and Co-Founder, Is Dead

Mr. Jobs's pursuit for aesthetic beauty sometimes bordered on the extreme. George Crow, an Apple engineer in the 1980s and again from 1998 to 2005, recalls how Mr. Jobs wanted to make even the inside of computers beautiful. On the original Macintosh PC, Mr. Crow says Mr. Jobs wanted the internal wiring to be in the colors of Apple's early rainbow logo. Mr. Crow says he eventually convinced Mr. Jobs it was an unnecessary expense.
Avatar_57x57

Playboy Interview: Steven Jobs

Steve Jobs, age 29.

"It’s often the same with any new, revolutionary thing. People get stuck as they get older. Our minds are sort of electrochemical computers. Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them. It’s a rare person who etches grooves that are other than a specific way of looking at things, a specific way of questioning things. It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing. Of course, there are some people who are innately curious, forever little kids in their awe of life, but they’re rare."

Avatar_57x57

Slow Scan to Moscow

How amateur tinkerers electronically contacted Russia during the Cold War:

The object of Joel's attention at this moment, however, as it is much of the time, is his four-pound, briefcase-size Radio Shack Tandy Model 100 portable computer. "I bought this machine for $399. For $1.82 a minute - $1.82! - I can send a telex message to Moscow. This technology is going to revolutionize human communications! Think what it will mean when you can get thousands of Americans and Soviets on the same computer network. Once scientists in both countries begin talking to each other on these machines they won't be able to stop. And we'll be taking a running leap over the governments on both sides.

Avatar_57x57

The Local-global Flip

The idea that people would “inexpensively have access to a tremendous global computation and networking facility” was supposed to create wealth and wellbeing. Has it instead created a technologically advanced dystopia?

Avatar_57x57

The Visionary

A profile of Jaron Lanier, virtual reality pioneer and the author of You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto.

Avatar_57x57

How The Internet Transformed The American Rave Scene

How a musical subculture evolved alongside a technological subculture:

Rave's rise mirrors the Web's in many ways. Both mixed rhetorical utopianism with insider snobbery. Both were future-forward "free spaces" with special appeal to geeks and wonks.

Avatar_57x57

Computers Aren’t So Smart, After All

I love combing through The Atlantic’s archives. There’s almost no better way of grasping the strangeness of the past than to flip through a general interest magazine from 1960. Here, we find Fred Hapgood grappling with what human intelligence meant in the light of new machines that could do something like thinking. Intelligence was being explored in a new way: by finding out what was duplicable about how our minds work. Hapgood's conclusion was that if you could automate a task, it would lose value to humans. What tremendous luck! Humans value that which only humans can do, he argued, regardless of the difficulty of the task. And that because computers were so good at sequential logic problems, we'd eventually end up only respecting emotional understanding, which remained (and remains) beyond the reach of AI.

-A. Madrigal

Avatar_57x57

Crypto Rebels

Steven Levy’s piece on cypherpunks and Internet libertarians could not feel more relevant in the wake of WikiLeaks’ rise and the heavily scrutinized role of online organizing in recent revolutions. During Wired’s first year, I’d just gotten an Internet account and had somehow stumbled on the magazine. It became my guide to this hybrid life that we all live now, half-online, half-offline.

-A. Madrigal

Avatar_57x57

Absolute PowerPoint

The definitive story of a ubiquitous software. PowerPoint’s origins, its evolution, and its mind-boggling impact on corporate culture.

Avatar_57x57

Wake Up, Geek Culture, Time To Die

On how 21st century culture shifts killed the nerd and what lies ahead.

Avatar_57x57

The Wizard Inside the Machine

An early attempt to explain the world-changing power of computer software—and the minds of young programmers like Bill Gates—to a mass audience. “Software,” the article begins, “is the magic carpet to the future.”

Avatar_57x57

Spacewar

A game called Spacewar is developed by early computer engineers in their spare time, improved in University comp-sci labs, and ultimately made available in coffeeshops for ten cents per game.

Avatar_57x57

Secrets of the Little Blue Box

How phone phreakers, many of them blind, opened up Ma Bell to unlimited free international calling using a technical manual and a toy organ.

Avatar_57x57

What Is I.B.M.’s Watson?

It’s the furthest artificial intelligence has come. And while the supercomputer may get attention for competing on Jeopardy!, Watson could also change everything from customer service to emergency rooms.

Avatar_57x57

Steve Jobs: The Next Insanely Great Thing

“The problem is I’m older now, I’m 40 years old, and this stuff doesn’t change the world. It really doesn’t.” –Steve Jobs, 1996

Avatar_57x57

Living With a Computer

Advice from 1982 on how and why one should buy a computer. “I can hardly bring myself to mention the true disadvantage of computers,” Fallows writes, “which is that I have become hopelessly addicted to them.”