Synopses & Reviews
The remarkable untold story of PLATO, the computer program and platform created in the 1960s, that marked the true beginning of cyberculture--a book that will rewrite the history of computing and the Internet
Here is the story of the brilliant, eccentric designers, developers, and denizens (often teenagers and twentysomethings) of the PLATO system, a computer network so far ahead of its time, and with a list of hardware and software innovations so long, that it's almost inconceivable that it actually existed--and existed so long ago--only to fade almost entirely from public view. The many thousands of people who used the system have held on to the PLATO ideas throughout their careers, influencing countless technological products and programs: from flat-panel wall TVs and touch-sensitive screens to chat rooms, instant messaging, screen savers, multiplayer games, flight simulators, crowdsourcing, interactive fiction, emoticons, and e-learning. Fascinating, first hand, and revelatory, The Friendly Orange Glow makes clear that the work of PLATO practitioners has profoundly shaped the computer industry from its inception to our very moment.
This book is as much the biography of a vision as it is the story of the people behind PLATO. Every technology story--whether it's about the steam engine, airplane, telephone, Model T, or more recently, Apple, Google, and Tesla electric car--has at its core a vision. It is the immutable nature of technology, and technology visions, to run full life cycles, from cradle to grave. PLATO's story is no different. Like all technology visions, PLATO grew outdated and was disrupted by competing visions. The Friendly Orange Glow is a revelatory paradigm for our technological age.
At a time when Steve Jobs was only a teenager and Mark Zuckerberg wasn't even born, a group of visionary engineers and designers--some of them only high school students--in the late 1960s and 1970s created a computer system called PLATO, which was light-years ahead in experimenting with how people would learn, engage, communicate, and play through connected computers. Not only did PLATO engineers make significant hardware breakthroughs with plasma displays and touch screens but PLATO programmers also came up with a long list of software innovations: chat rooms, instant messaging, message boards, screen savers, multiplayer games, online newspapers, interactive fiction, and emoticons. Together, the PLATO community pioneered what we now collectively engage in as cyberculture. They were among the first to identify and also realize the potential and scope of the social interconnectivity of computers, well before the creation of the internet. PLATO was the foundational model for every online community that was to follow in its footsteps.
The Friendly Orange Glow is the first history to recount in fascinating detail the remarkable accomplishments and inspiring personal stories of the PLATO community. The addictive nature of PLATO both ruined many a college career and launched pathbreaking multimillion-dollar software products. Its development, impact, and eventual disappearance provides an instructive case study of technological innovation and disruption, project management, and missed opportunities. Above all, The Friendly Orange Glow at last reveals new perspectives on the origins of social computing and our internet-infatuated world.