THE COMPUTER WORLD COULD BE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
Theodor Holm Nelson
Founding Designer, Project Xanadu
Fish, they say, aren't aware of water. Most people, including
computer scientists, don't notice the hidden assumptions and
traditions that have structured today's computer world and digital
documents. These assumptions push the real problems into the laps of
users and programmers. (Note that at this level, Windows, Mac and
Linux, Iphone and Android are all the same.)
Almost nobody notices the consequences of this locked cosmology--
- FILES-- lumps of data payload with short names. What is
"metadata"? Data which is not in the payload-- a silly distinction.
- HIERARCHICAL DIRECTORIES-- don't allow a file to be in more than
one place, annotated or checked off, and don't notice when a file is
- LUMPDOCS-- it is assumed that one document = one file; this forces
a crude model of publication and pushes the problem of change
management to the user.
- THE PUI (PARC User Interface, often called "The Modern GUI") turns
the computer into a paper simulator, throwing away document structure
(the original overlay links of Engelbart and others) in favor of
cosmetics (fonts). Designed for secretaries and now imposed on the
whole world, the PUI traps the user-- proletarianized, no longer
allowed to program-- in a world of application prisons.
- WALLED DATABASES. There is no available way to represent, and keep
records about, the complex interwoven tangles of real life.
Everything has to be simplified and connections have to be cut in all
- ONE-WAY HYPERTEXT-- the ayatollahs of the World Wide Web say that
two-way links are too difficult. Translation: they don't know how to
People are satisfied, or intimidated, because they don't know anything
else is possible.
There is no right or wrong computer world; what is wrong is that there
is only one computer world, with no other choices.
We will consider some alternatives.