As We May Think

As we watched Douglas Engelbart’s, “Mother of All Demos,” my internal dialogue went something like this . . .

Looks like one of the guys from the Apollo launches.

Ah, copy and paste.  Moving paragraphs, moving sections, reorganizing, rereading, rewriting, revising.

No more self-correcting electric typewriters.

Love the list as a map.

I prefer mapping on paper or a whiteboard.  A computer screen is too small.

A sharp #2 pencil is a fine piece of technology.

Given my nostalgia, I decided to go “old school” with my media choice for the Bush essay, enjoying the experience of holding a heavy hardback book on my lap and turning pages rather than tapping a screen.  Before long, however, the computer lured me into its world. I clicked on the Edward R. Murrow video, watched it, noticed a Ted Nelson video in the sidebar, watched it, did a search on Nelson, wandered around some other links related to computer architecture, and then finally returned to Bush’s essay in a digital format. I was able to follow ideas as they piqued my curiosity.  I moved across decades and fields of study.  I came away with questions about how computer architecture shapes learning and understanding.

I contrasted my experience last week with how I would have pursued this same reading assignment “back in the day.”  I’d have pulled the hardbound 1945 volume of The Atlantic off the shelf and carried it to a nearby table.  While thumbing through the pages to find the essay, I’d have checked out the cover photo, considered other articles, and studied the advertising.  After reading the essay, I definitely would have checked out the next issue, the one that reported the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the story of the Manhattan Project.  I probably would have learned that Dr. Vannevar Bush witnessed the test of the first atomic bomb.

While clearly I made choices in both cases, the medium I used to access Bush’s essay shaped what was most readily available to me, what other content might shape and contextualize my understanding of his work.

What difference does it make?

That’s what I hope to explore more deeply in this seminar.  How do new media shape thinking and learning?