The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture

Brian Dear. Pantheon, $40 (640p) ISBN 978-1-101-87155-3
Dear, a tech entrepreneur, recounts the development of the little-known PLATO, a teaching platform invented at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the 1960s, in this exuberant history. The computer-based system featured cutting-edge flat-panel plasma displays that glowed orange and were connected by phone lines to a central mainframe computer that supplied lessons and tests to students at far-flung campuses. Supervised by charismatic professor Don Bitzer, PLATO never caught on as a teaching tool, but its fast telecom links and shared apps nurtured an online culture decades before the advent of the web. It fostered a community of enthusiastic teenage hackers, message boards and chatrooms, a primitive news site and blogs, digital hieroglyphics resembling today’s emoji, and hundreds of slackers playing addictive multiuser computer games all night. Dear’s sprawling re-creation conveys the excitement of technological innovation and the freewheeling eccentricity of this vibrant scene—along with the tediousness of IT procedural nitty gritty (“It was using a -jumpout- command, I jumped right into the middle of, I don’t know, was it the ‘edit’ program or something?”). Although bloated with extraneous backstory, long-winded anecdotes, and overstated praise of a dead-end technology, the book offers a lively portrait of the energy and creativity that a networked world can unleash. Photos. Agent: Regina Ryan, Regina Ryan Publishing Enterprises. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/14/2017
Release date: 11/14/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 640 pages - 978-1-101-97363-9
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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