Kay & Goldberg: I’ve been a fool

I loved this reading. It was one of those readings that made me realize that there was a lot of thought about things that I take for granted long before I was born. In particular, I enjoyed the way in which they envisioned future people using the Dynabook, as described on pg 394. It is like the Platonic ideal of a mechanized, or digitized, helper in every way, it has the ability to be all things to all people. And in a way, they were right about that. We’re all familiar with the phrase “there’s an app for that,” and annoying as that is, it is mostly true, there is an app for that these days.

And in the conclusion to the paper, this point is really driven home for me. They ask:

“What would happen in a world in which everyone had a Dynabook?”

Well, since I live in a world in which pretty much everyone has something akin to Dynabook, let me see how right they were about proposed uses.

  • Architect scenario – Yes
  • Doctor scenario – Yes
  • Music composition – Yes
  • Learning music – Yes
  • Running a home, budgets, lists etc – Yes
  • Business scenario – Yes
  • Math education – Probably
  • Laboratory education – Probably
  • Prose/poetry production – Yes

Just wonderful, love the optimism surrounding this paper.

The short discussion on pg 395 about ebooks also intrigues me. They say:

“It need not be treated as a simulated paper book since this is a new medium with new properties.”

While this is a statement I’d agree with, I don’t know how to look beyond simply simulating paper books, as we do now. Yes, they do mention the idea of using ebooks as a way to go through “choose your own adventure” books easier, but that is a low-level use. The fact that people have been thinking about how books can be translated to a digital format for such a long time without producing results better than adding features like full text searching makes me think that it will take a long long time for us to create another truly universal format like books in the digital realm.

This discussion also makes me think of John Warnock’s paper The Camelot Project. In the paper, Warnock pretty much lays out what we think of as PDF today. He covers many interesting thoughts in the paper, but the one that resonates the most with me is how enthusiastic he was about the possibility of full text searching. While the thought of full text searching is old-hat today, it was pure sci-fi fantasy in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. I highly recommend checking the paper out.



Favorite line of the paper:

“If the ‘medium is the message,’ then the message of low-bandwidth timesharing is ‘blah.'”

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