#Openlearning17 — Ted Nelson

Photo of Computer Lib, Dream Machine

Repost of For the Wholiness of the Human Spirit (2015)

Re-watching Ted Nelson’s eulogy for Doug Engelbart last week reminded me of one of the many (many) reasons Nelson’s thinking about computers and society resonates so powerfully with me. Mourning the loss of one of the most pivotal stars of the new media revolution by indicting his colleagues and making them laugh (nervously), invoking the tropes of classical funeral orations and quotes from Shaw and Shakespeare, and recounting the highlights and tragedies of Engelbart’s career, Nelson’s eulogy is a tour de force in terms of form (technique) and content.  He insists, as passionately as he had in 1974, that computers should support our dreams, indeed that technology is an expression of those dreams.  And dreams, of course, are as much about the emotions as they are about reason and calculation.

 Movies and books, music and even architecture have for all of us been part of important emotional moments. The same is going to happen with the new media. To work at a highly responsive computer display screen, for instance, can be deeply exciting, like flying an airplane through a canyon, or talking to somebody brilliant. This is as it should be…..
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Clenched Fist

Ted Nelson’s Computer Lib / Dream Machines reading is among my favorites in the New Media Seminar.  As Claire notes, even for the connoisseur nugget-searcher, this selection, and especially the “Dream Machines” section,  abounds in provocative, compelling morsels.  I’m going to just note one for now:

“I believe computer screens can make people happier, smarter, and better able to cope with the copious problems of tomorrow.  But only if we do right, right now.” (NMR, p. 317)

So, have we done it right?  Did we do it right now?

Computer_Lib_cover_by_Ted_Nelson_1974As a child of the sixties, I find the clenched, raised fist of Computer Lib both challenging and familiar.  A powerful gesture of resistance and unity, the raised, clenched fist has an ancient lineage in human culture and is especially associated with the protest movements of the post-World War II era.  Indeed we are thinking about the challenge of Computer Lib on the 45th anniversary of one of the most famous uses of the raised clenched fist: the silent protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos on October 16 at the 1968 Olympics. Smith and Carlos shocked many, and paid a heavy price for “politicizing” the Olympic games.  Yet their silent bravery bore witness to a deep-seated disillusionment with a society whose actions fell far short of its ideals.

I’m wondering about the overtones of resistance, unity, power, and struggle in the computer lib fist and how we might respond to that fist today.  Are we “happier, smarter, and better able to cope with the copious problems of tomorrow?”