Ted Nelson’s Computer Lib and Dream Machines

I liked this collection of excerpts.  There are some nearly prescient observations and ideas about hypertext, word processing, and visual presentation that are nearly ubiquitous today.  Here are a few disparate observations about the reading:

  • There’s an interesting philosophy that runs through the excerpts that learning should and can be a simple process of following your interests.  While that’s an appealing prospect, it’s easy to imagine situations where a necessary stretch of non-stimulating learning is required to reach a new area of stimulating learning.  It’s entirely possible that computer presentations can reduce the non-stimulating stretches, but they are unlikely to eliminate such stretches.
  • His statements in the Computer Lib section are often at odds with each other.  “Everybody Should Understand Computers” (Even if they find the topic uninteresting?)  And yet, he later says the reader may freely skip this part of the book and move on to the Dream Machines side.  I could go on and on, but his attitude and commentary is almost uniformly irritating.
  • Stellavision is a prediction of haptic technology.  This is an important area of human computer interaction.  For example, current smartphone touchscreens desperately need haptic technology built in.
  • Thinkertoys to envision complex alternatives.  This presages current technology like virtual neural networks and other component-based exploratory tools.
  • His use of advanced data structures (e.g. trees and graphs) in his Xanadu system is commendable.  I’m not sure of the history of applied data structures, but he has to be among the early thinkers in this area.

These excerpt got me to wondering what is the limit of computers in the representation of information.  It is clear that computers, not limited by physical constraints (like a book), have given us novel ways of exploring and learning.  It is also clear that the human mind can imagine, hold and manipulate spaces that no current computer can.  It would be an interesting exercise to try to find examples of such spaces.

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~ by wallablogga on February 28, 2012.

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