History of Computing: What are the best resources to round out an education on Xerox PARC?

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Mudassir Ali
Feb 05, 2020 04:56 PM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Feb 05, 2020 04:56 PM

None. A better version of the story will never really be properly told in public because the organizations involved (Xerox, DARPA, Stanford, SRI, Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, 3COM…) have perceptions to manage, brands to protect, still-live relationships to nurture. By the time those concerns disappear, so will interest in the story and the freshness of the data.

Even though most of the people who played a role have been gone from the stage for 25 years, institutional memories are long and you need a lot more time before you can publicly tell a better version of the story. For this story, I’d estimate about 2050, by which time all the principals will be dead, and people with decent second-hand takes on the story like me, will be too old and uninterested to care.

Even former employees of Xerox like me have no real incentive (and a few disincentives) to share their best take on the story openly, even though in some respects some of us have been able to develop a better understanding of the story than is presented in either of those two books. Or for that matter, the story as remembered by the actual participants, all of whom are now near the ends of their careers, retired, or dead. They lack the perspective afforded by emotional distance, as I discovered through an email interaction with one of the still-alive stars of the story, whom I won’t name. I asked him a few questions and was thoroughly disappointed by the predictability of the answers. Smart people are not immune to the temptation of taking things too personally.

For the record, between 2006 to early 2011, I worked at the research center (Rochester) that played one of the “bad guys” in the popular version of the 1970s PARC story. I did a fair amount of collaborative work with my peers in PARC (such as Ed H. Chi, now at Google) and had a fair amount of opportunity to learn more about the story than is known generally. History interests me enough that I did dig around quite a bit and developed a take on the story that I think is better than the publicly known versions. But I only share it with people with the context to appreciate it.

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