Ted Nelson is an early writer and speaker on the topic of computer literacy and information technology. Computer Lib/Dream Machine is perhaps his most well known work, as it condenses many of his most important ideas and documents his work on Xanadu, the network he aspired to build with a straightforward interface that any user could master. He is a computer populist, believing the machines must be taken out of the grip of an elite group of programming and made accessible to all. While Xanadu was a failure [famously documented in 1995 issue of Wired], many feel that Xanadu was a conceptual precurssor to the World Wide Web.
Computer Lib/Dream Machine Edit
Computer Lib/Dream Machine is two books literally combined--the front cover of Dream Machine is the back cover of Computer Liberation. It was one of the earliest books to work through the notion of the personal computer (alongside Nick Negroponte's 1970 The Architecture Machine), and is notable for its efforts to "democratize" computers by creativing innovative, intuitive, and adaptive interfaces. Nelson is greatly concerned that knowledge of computers was being held by a "priesthood" who have created a mythology of the computer as cold, immaculate, sterile, scientific and oppressive. This has resulted in a gap between the public and the computer than must be closed by developing the computer as a DIY, anti-professional technology: "As the saying goes, war is too important to be left to the generals. Guardianship of the computer can no longer be left to a priesthood. I see this as just one example of the creeping evil of Professionalism [...]" (304). Nelson argues that professionals can be taught the limitations of their power, like doctors who are told they may not control other's bodies (here he cites Ellen Frankfort's Vaginal Politics; the 1973 ruling of Roe v. Wade must have been on his mind--does he intend to offer the computer comparative subjectivity?).
Rather, Nelson sees computers as "versatile gizmos which may be turned to any purpose, in any style" (304) [does this is some way speak to the alleged "death of media" as they move toward infinitely integrable digitalization?]. Nelson believes in the centrality of the computer to life (but does not mistake it for life): Computers are not everything, they are just an aspect of everything" (303). Nelson is interested in media that is not unnecessarily technical, for "When you can't tear a teeny kid away from the computer screen, we'll have gotten there" (317).
Media for Nelson, are "structured transmission mechanisms" (318) that we live in, "as fish live in water [...] we can and must design the media, design the molecules of our new water, and I believe the details of this design matter very deeply" (306). The public must begin to understand the logic of computers in an approachable way, as the computer must be a handmaiden to "help people write, think and show" (306). Interface is key, for Nelson argues "We are approaching a screen apocalypse...responsive computer display systems can, should and will restructure and light up the mental life of mankind" (317).
Nelson is deeply interested in the role computers would play in pedagogy, and hopes that future users could program the computer that help us in our thinking, rather than replicate the same problems we already have in education. Rather than instruct through rote, computers should expose and connect--in a diagram he offers the image of both teacher and computer as possible walls of obstruction between student and content, whereas hypermedia can make the mediation of content transparent (312).
Nelson envisions "computer-based presentational wonderlands, where a student (or other user) may browse and ramble through a vast variety of writings, pictures and apparitions in magical space, as well as rich data structures and facilities for twiddling them" (312). Nelson defines these as responding resources, which have two types, facilities and hyper-media. Facility is something the user may call up to perform routinely a computation or other act, behaving in a desired way on demand. Hyper-media are branching or performing presentations which respond to user actions, systems or prearranged words and pictures (for example) which may be explored freely or queried in stylized ways. (312-313). Hyper-media should "motivate the user and let him loose in a wonderful place" rather than regiment behavioral structures. Nelson does seem opposed to having the computer try and dialogue with the user, as dialogue is not a computer's greatest assest. He is essentially arguing for sandbox education.
Nelson is ultimately interested in the organization of wholeness, a system that is infinitely flexible and amendable, such that the same interface systems can perform a variety of actions, and in which the design of interfaces, controls and screens actually matters (fantic structure, enabled through fantic design: the planning and selection of effects) (324-5). His interest in interface may have possible relationships to Wendy Chun's article "On Software".
Nelson comes up with some significant terms:
Hypertext: means forms of writing which branch or perform on request (314). A hypergram is a performing or branching picture
Stretchtext: "as a form of writing, it has special advantages for discursive and loosely structured materials--for instance historical narratives" (315). As it is stretched, it will gain more detail. INTERESTING IMPLICATIONS
Fantics: Fantics is concerned with the art and science of presentation. Including, techniques of presentation (writing, moving making, layout), media themselves, and design of systems of presentation, but also psychological effect and impact, sociological tie-ins, and the parts, conceptual threads, unifying concepts etc that make the world understandable. Uses the example of the highway to talk about how something like the arbitrary naming of "Route 66"--a conceptual construct--takes on the reality as people enact with it and give it meaning.
Thinkertoys: systems to help people think, a computer display system that helps you envision complex alternatives (330). Also connected to the Parallel Textface: roving text w/ a light pen