Ted Nelson – Computer Lib

There are a number of aspects of Ted Nelson’s prophetic / eccentric writing that continue to provoke me. One is the simple insistence on working with, mastering, shaping computers to our own needs. The dominance of Microsoft and Apple and the consumer market for software certainly take us in a different direction; but even general education in computer literacy seems to have shifted from an emphasis on being able to understand and manipulate computers … to being able to use Microsoft Office (i.e. office tasks rather than literacy).

Another dimension that fascinates me is the emphasis on reading, on connecting texts, on using the machine as an extension of the thinking / writing subject. Here I “hear” the echoes of Vannevar Bush but also Marshall McLuhan.

As digital teachers, I think we face some of these issues in different form as we are offered the use of so-called “Learning Management Systems” like Blackboard or WebCT. Without categorically rejecting the possibility that creative teachers might make good use of such systems, I think it’s fair to say that some of Nelson’s critique of “C.A.I” could be extended to the current manifestation in LMS. Though, to be fair, there is no guarantee that swapping one’s “Blackboard” (TM) for a class wiki is a step towards adopting a liberatory pedagogy worthy of Paulo Freire.

Finally, of course, there’s the intriguing format of these books themselves — of which you get at least a hint in the reproduction….