Saturday, September 4, 2010

Progress: Dystopia or Utopia?

The popular conception of computers reflected in the 1964 episode of The Twilight Zone "The Brain center at Whipples" shows us "the machine" as a source of problems thus expressing the anxiety over the prospect of computers displacing workers. It was in this cultural context that Doug Engelbart demonstrated the functions he envisioned a computer might perform. Known as the Mother of All Demos, his Stanford Research Institute's visionary December 9, 1968 presentation of networked computers aimed to improve "the effectiveness of intellectual workers" by helping them "share knowledge." Engelbart shows the public for the first time the functions we take we now take for granted: the mouse, video-conferencing, hyperlinks, digital text editing and online collaboration. Engelbart envisioned a utopian use of technology "toward making the most difference in improving the lot of the human race."

Ted Nelson, best known for coining the term hypertext and conceptualizing what we now know as a link on the Internet, thought computers should go beyond number crunching of IBM. He believed they should be used by all people for all things. In his book, Computer Lib/Dream Machines, he advocates for a deep understanding of computers. They should be fun and not dystopian.

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