That Difficult Third Album

Having completed and published both the paperback and eBook versions of The Story of the Robot in July last year after nearly 3 years of effort, I was in no hurry to start another writing project. I’d succeeded in proving to myself that I could write a second book. Also, having covered the two areas of technology which I can claim some expertise in (computers and automation systems), I reckoned I had run out of suitable topics to cover.

However, there was one piece of unfinished business. When writing my first book, The Story of the Computer: A Technical and Business History, I’d omitted planned chapters on supercomputers and portable computers in order to keep the overall length of the book manageable. Perhaps one of these could be the subject of a new book?

I quickly ruled out supercomputers. Supercomputing is a highly specialised subject and my experience of it is limited so a full-length book on its origins and evolution would be a tall order for me and probably also of little interest to potential readers. That left portable computers.

I have to confess to disliking portable computing devices. I get frustrated by their tiny virtual or physical keyboards, miniscule screens and absence of a decent pointing device. I don’t actually want to compose an e-mail while walking down the street or in the back seat of a taxi. I’d rather do it from the comfort of my desk, where I can give the task my full attention without fear that my user experience will be severely compromised by the Lilliputian nature of the equipment. Despite this, I can’t help marvelling at the ingenuity of their design and the enormous effort that has gone into their development.

Therefore, in August 2022 I began scoping out a book on the history of portable computing technology with the working title ‘A Moving Story‘. After a few weeks of intensive research I had a rough outline of the new book, complete with chapter headings, subheadings and bullet points for content. The next stage would be to take each chapter outline and expand it into working draft but I now realised that I’d be going over much of the same old ground as The Story of the Computer, as portable computers are still computers after all, and this dampened my enthusiasm considerably. I needed to find a different subject if I was to have any hope of writing a third book, something that I had both the enthusiasm for and sufficient knowledge of.

In September 2022 I attended a reunion of former colleagues from the University of Glasgow. During a conversation with one of my oldest ex-colleagues, I mentioned my struggle to find a suitable subject for a third book. Knowing that I was a keen amateur musician with an abiding interest in the technological aspects of music making, he suggested the history of music technology. After mulling this suggestion over for a couple of months, I decided that it was indeed the right subject for my next book.

I’ve now completed an outline for the new book, which has the working title ‘Turn Up the Volume‘, and have started work on the first draft of Chapter 1. Music technology overlaps with automation and computing at several points in its history, which gives the book a sense of continuity with the two earlier books while remaining a standalone work. Progress was slow to begin with due to the large amount of background research required for a “new” subject but is now accelerating rapidly as my enthusiasm builds. The target date for completion is early 2026 so watch this space!


Author: Stephen J Marshall

Writer and speaker on the history of technology with a background in engineering R&D, IP commercialisation and knowledge exchange.

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