It’s easy to look at the issues of modern technology— privacy, property, misinformation—and assume it’s all a product of the last ten or so years. Before then, it was all clunky computers and waiting for hours for a single file to download, so it’s logical to think many of the philosophical conversations we’re having about our current technological state must be solely unique to this very moment in time. Right?
That’s what Jill Lepore thought too, before she discovered the secret beginnings of all of this “how far is too far?” technology controversy with roots far earlier than she’d imagined. In her new book If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future, the author and acclaimed professor of American history delves into the complex tale of the Simulatics Corporation of the early sixties and how it laid the groundwork for much of today’s technological and political landscapes. Through Town Hall Seattle, she and fellow historian Margaret O’Mara sat down over Zoom livestream to discuss her findings and further unpack just how influential this virtually unknown company truly was. Now, I went into this livestream having never heard of Simulatics, or the book, or even Lepore herself, and yet, I was hooked from the get go.