Computer Lib/Dream Machines
First edition cover
|Publisher||Self-published (1st ed.)
Tempus Books/Microsoft Press (2nd ed.)
|1974 (1st ed.)
1987 (2nd ed.)
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
Computer Lib is a 1974 book by Ted Nelson, originally published by Nelson himself, and packaged with Dream Machines, another book by Nelson. The book had two front covers to indicate its intertwingled nature, and was republished with a foreword by Stewart Brand in 1987 by Microsoft Press. Computer Lib, subtitled "You can and must understand computers NOW," was influenced by Brand's Whole Earth Catalog.
Nelson's book is a spirited manifesto that inspired a generation of DIY computer-lovers. In his book Tools for Thought, Howard Rheingold calls Computer Lib "the best-selling underground manifesto of the microcomputer revolution." In Steven Levy's book Hackers, Computer Lib is described as "the epic of the computer revolution, the bible of the hacker dream. [Nelson] was stubborn enough to publish it when no one else seemed to think it was a good idea." Published just before the release of the Altair 8800 kit, Computer Lib is often considered the first book about the personal computer.
Nelson writes passionately about the need for people to understand computers deeply, more deeply than was generally promoted as computer literacy, which he considers a superficial kind of familiarity with particular hardware and software. His rallying cry "Down with Cybercrud" is against the centralization of computers such as that performed by IBM at the time, as well as against what he sees as the intentional untruths that "computer people" tell to non-computer people to keep them from understanding computers. In Dream Machines, Nelson covers the flexible media potential of the computer, which was shockingly new at the time.
Both the 1974 and 1987 editions have an unconventional layout, with two front covers (one for Computer Lib and the other for Dream Machines) and the division between the two books marked by text (for the other side) rotated 180°. The text itself is broken up into many sections, with simulated pull-quotes, comics, side bars, etc., similar to a magazine layout. According to Steven Levy, Nelson's format requirements for the book's "oversized pages loaded with print so small you could hardly read it, along with scribbled notations, and manically amateurish drawings" may have contributed to the difficulty of finding a publisher for the first edition - Nelson paid 2,000 dollars out of his own pocket for the first print run of several hundred copies.
Besides the Whole Earth Catalog, the layout also bore similarities to the People's Computer Company (PCC) newsletter, published by a Menlo Park based group of the same name, where Nelson's book would gain (as described by Levy) "a cult following ... Ted Nelson was treated like royalty at [PCC] potluck dinners."
- cybercrud is "the author's own term for the practice of putting things over on people using computers (especially, forcing them to adapt to a rigid, inflexible, poorly thought out system)"
- Nelson, Theodor. 1974. Computer Lib: You Can and Must Understand Computers Now; Dream Machines: New Freedoms Through Computer Screens— A Minority Report. Self-published. ISBN 0-89347-002-3.
- Nelson, Theodor. 1987. Computer Lib/Dream Machines. Tempus Books of Microsoft Press. ISBN 0-914845-49-7.
- Wardrip-Fruin, Noah, and Nick Montfort. 2003. New Media Reader. MIT Press. ISBN 0-26223-227-8