Dream Machines, Pioneers and Inspiration

Ted Nelson is an American philosopher, sociologist and pioneer in information technology. Since the early 60s of the old century he is striving with his work to make computers more accessible to ordinary people.

“The myth that things have to be complicated to do anything for you is pernicious rubbish.Well-designed systems can make our mental tasks lighter and ourachievements come faster.”

(Ted Nelson 1974 in Computer Lib/Dream Machines, Section Clarity and Power)

Ted Nelson was with his ideas ahead of his time. Already in 1965 he coined the terms hypertext and hypermedia.An early idea of the terminology as we know and use it today.

If computers are the wave of the future, displays are the surfboards.

As history shows, it will take a few years before Nelson’s idea of a personal computer with a graphical user interface was realised.

 What is a graphical user interface?

A graphical user interface, abbreviated as GUI, allows the use of the computer through graphic symbols. This works with a computer mouse or by simply pointing with the finger at a touchscreen. This marks a fundamental change in operationg concept.Until then the only access was via the Command Line Interface (CLI).

The concept of GUI in the modern sense dates back to the 1970s by Xerox PARC in California.

First GUI by Xerox in 1975

First GUI by Xerox in 1975

In 1973, at Xerox PARC, the first computer with a graphical user interface was developed, the Xerox Alto. While the Xerox Alto was developed for research purposes, with the Xerox Star in 1981 a commercial computer was released. This one could be already operated by a mouse through a desktop with menus and windows.

A certain Steve Jobs visited Xerox PARC in 1979 and there he saw the computer with GUI which marked a significant turn in the development.
“They showed me really three things, but I was so blinded by the first one I didn’t even really see the other two. One of the things they showed me was object orienting programming they showed me that but I didn’t even see that. The other one they showed me was a networked computer system…they had over a hundred Alto computers all networked using email etc., etc., I didn’t even see that. I was so blinded by the first thing they showed me which was the graphical user interface. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen in my life  (Steve Jobs 1995)
Inspired by this amazing experience in 1983 Steve Jobs brought  out  „The Apple Lisaon the market.

„The Lisawas one of the first personal computer that had a mouse and an operating system with a graphical user interface. Because of the high price of around $ 10,000, the computer sold poorly, and Apple stopped production in already 1984.

In the computer historyLisa“ is considered as predecessor of the much cheaper, but technically similar Apple Macintosh. The „Mac“ was produced in greater quantities and could therefore be offered at a lower price.

Ted Nelson’s idea of an intuitive use for personal computers may still not be reached, but the usability is improving very fast. It always needs a mastermind, a madman with an idea which seems at the present time unrealisable or sometimes just unaffordable to invent something new. We may not know who was inspired by Nelson’s „Computer Lib / Dream Machines“ but the result counts.

Spread ideas your ideas with the world! You may not be able to do it, but someone else may!

For closing this post I want to share with you something classic … be brave enough to stand out from the crowd and change things you do not like, it is in your hand, it is in our hands!


DH and me – My approach to literary studies

Hello World !

This is my first posting for my wordpress blog. The blog is part of my studies in “Linguistic and Literary Computing” at the Technical University of Darmstadt.

In one of my courses we have been asked how the Digital Humanities do challenge or expand our approach to literary studies in the past and in the future.

For myself I can say that studying literature has always been linked to the digital world. Already in school we had an extensive use of the personal computer and the Internet additional to the printed books we used in class. For example when we read a poem by Goethe we searched for background information about the author, historical and political situation at the time it was written and so on.

When I started studying English language, literature and Philosophy the use of scientific databases and journal archives became indispensable. Naturally, there is the traditional approach to go to the library and to look up the needed information in a book. In most cases the book then is already borrowed by someone else or it does not contain the required information. Regarding journals only the latest editions are mostly available, as for instance from the current year. The older ones have already been archived and the access is more time consuming and sometimes not possible.

The university provides for its students access to many online journal archives and databases via Virtual Private Network (VPN). Hence, a web search is the fastest and easiest way to get a first overview. Sometimes it is also the only access to very old volumes of journals. Depending on the humanity and the actual topic one could find easily the most publications in a digital form. Obviously, there are some books and papers which are just available in a printed form because of the year they have been published, especially in the field of Philosophy.

The rapidity of our time increases day by day. Society shifts more and more to information and communication technologies. We do not want anymore to have a long and extensively search for information. All has to be found just in time and therefore it is no coincidence that Google displays how many milliseconds have been necessary to obtain the search results.

As the previous examples from my daily student life already illustrated for my comprehension the humanities are digital. I make no distinction between the traditional and the digital approach, because for me they are closely linked together. I do belong to the so called “Millenials”, the generation “Y”. We grow up hand in hand with the World Wide Web, even if we do not remember our and its first steps. As teenagers we conquered the Web 2.0. We published and shared almost everything from our lives via the social platforms like Facebook, Instagramm, Twitter, Tumblr and so on with the whole world or at least with our followers and virtual friends. It is for us therefore only natural the sciences and especially the humanities are part of the digital world.