Three years ago today, Steve Jobs launched the iPad on an expectant world, taking lots of people — including yours truly — by surprise.
A friend of mine sent me a draft of a lecture she will be giving soon. It contained a reference to a book that she thought interesting and important. It was The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began by Stephen Greenblatt. Since I take my friend seriously, I followed the link and bought the Kindle edition. And now I can’t get any work done: it’s one of those books that takes you by the throat and just won’t let go until it reaches the end. It’s a beautifully-written account of the rediscovery, in 1417, of On The Nature of Things, a poem by Lucretius, and of the impact that rediscovery had in shaping the modern world. The book won a Pulitzer prize, and now I understand why.
This morning’s Observer column.
Nothing lasts forever: if history has any lesson for us, it is this. It’s a thought that comes from rereading Paul Kennedy’s magisterial tome, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, in which he shows that none of the great nation-states or empires of history – Rome; imperial Spain in 1600; France in either its Bourbon or Bonapartist manifestations; the Dutch republic in 1700; Britain in its imperial glory – succeeded in maintaining its global ascendancy for long.
What has this got to do with technology? Well, it provides us with a useful way of thinking about two of the tech world’s great powers.