Reading for 2/12/08

February 11th, 2008

The first sentence of the introduction–the one telling us that this “is the most important book in the history of new media”–certainly does build up expectations. And by the first few paragraph of the excerpt itself, I think Nelson sold me on the idea that maybe the claim from the introduction wasn’t just a gross overstatement. If “Any nitwit can understand computers,” then that means maybe I can too–finally.

Despite the fact that this was written in 1973, I think a lot of it still applies today, in the sense that there is something of a chasm between people who know how to use computers and see them for their opportunities, and those that are afraid and daunted by the very idea. And on the “Dream Machines” side, he tells us–essentially–that we should “think outside the box” and dream, and that we shouldn’t listen to people who tell us otherwise. Somewhat inspiringly, he writes: “Most people’s minds are turned off most of the time. We know virtually nothing of human abilities except as they have been pickled and boxed in schools; we need to ignore all that and start fresh.” It is then the idea of what he calls “fantics” that interests me and seems perhaps to be a good deal of what new media is concerned with–getting ideas and emotions across. (And, in a sidenote: I’ve also wondered about Mickey Mouse’s ears. The drawing on page 321 merely confirms my childhood belief that his ears are constantly spinning to look at me.) Throughout his writing, Nelson has ideas that are interesting (if occasionally a bit dated) and they open up the idea of new possibilities and playing with new media to do new things that haven’t been tried before.

I tried to look up some more about Nelson, but the internet seems to be depressingly devoid of good information. (I can find places that list the things he’s written, but very little about the man himself. I also found a thrilling irrelevant black-and-white photo of some man named Johannes Nelson in a three-piece suit.)

4 Responses to “Reading for 2/12/08”

  1. elemons on February 12, 2008 12:02 am

    I really love computer-aided design and this article showed the roots of it in its beginnings. Nelson sewed the seeds for programs like TopSolid, OmniCAD, and QuickDraw.

  2. gardnercampbell on February 12, 2008 10:07 am

    Wonderful post! Here’s <a href=””Ted Nelson’s website (the whole Xanadu project has obviously been his Engelbartian moment of despair–see the Wired article for a scathing critique of Nelson’s idea–many consider it an unfair attack).

  3. gardnercampbell on February 12, 2008 10:07 am

    Oops: messed up the html on the first link: try this link to the website.

  4. Gardner Campbell on February 12, 2008 10:09 am

    OK, now the links don’t seem to work at all–so here are the URLs:

    Ted Nelson’s website:

    The Wired Article

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