Frustration. Admiration. Sadness.
I was reading a part of Douglas Engelbart’s Augmenting Human Intellect (1962) recently. I am not a computer scientist, so it wasn’t easy going, and that led to the frustration. I would like to understand these things better, but I find myself both rushed and challenged by some of these ideas. Yet I am interested in the digital world, with its impact on education and self-creation, and that led me to admiration. Engelbart says early: “We refer to a way of life…”d He wanted to make life better. His chosen area was the digital manipulation of what could be manipulated. He knew he was setting up the future, for others to continue the process. He also says “…we find that after a few passes through a reference, we very rarely go back to it in its original form. It sits in the archives like an orange rind, with most of the real juice squeezed out.” I am fascinated by his thinking, his contemporaneous feel (writing this in 1962), and his gifts. And that’s when I asked Gardner what he was up to now. I did not know if he was still alive or not when I asked the question. And I got the best and worst kind of response. Gardner gave an immediate visceral response; this was important to him. And then he narrated. He is still alive, but he has Alzheimer’s Disease. I found this – as did most of those in the room, primed by Gardner’s reaction no doubt – I found this incredibly sad. One of the more brilliant minds in the late 20th century now gone in significant ways. Gardner’s story was touching, effective, and, for me, devastating. This is a great fear of mine, to have Alzheimers and to be at that terrifying point when you know you have it and know you will slip away, but just before you do. I had to leave just then, but it was a somber walk. Somber and respectful.