incubation: nelson and monoism
At Incubation Ted Nelson, relocated to Oxford, spoke about the uninspired, paper-centric ways in which we use computers. “I never imagined, back then, that the techies would try to simulate paper,” he complained, calling Adobe Acrobat not merely a simulation of paper but a simulation of crippled paper, paper under glass: you can’t scribble on it, tear it or really use it unless you print it out. “That is why the paperless office is a fiction”, he said, “we print things out becuase there is no decent way of organising electronic documents”.
I love Ted Nelsons clear and heartfelt explanations of why the world of computers is wrong. Yes, assuming that everything should be built around a hierarchical file structure limits us yet we take it for granted (need the world be hierarchical?) but I’m less enamoured with his self-declared monoism, his desire to INSERT these things with his own singular vision. He ignores the ways in which people use computers otherwise than as fake paper. I hardly ever print out the weblogs and wikis I read, and I use search engines and collaborative linking to keep track of what I read. Commercial systems like Tinderbox for writing, iPhoto for images and iTunes for music let you do away with hierarchy and let you organise your data in many ways, using keywords, searching, metadata and agents or “smart albums” to visualise shifting interests and constructions of the information you have. Nelson points out that a document needn’t equal a file, as it does in most (all?) operating systems, but neglects to note that on the web, it doesn’t.
It’s still wonderful hearing Nelson’s scathing criticisms of the way most of us use computers. And I do realise that although more and more of us truly use our laptops and mobile devices and the network as a distributed office, most people still print their documents. Paper simulation.