The Seer

After reading Literary Machines by Theodore Nelson, I must admit I’m in a bit of shock. Nelson somehow managed to predict the internet and the world as it exists online today.

This idea of storage of information on an electrical device and his ideas of how it would be structured are phenomenally accurate. I particularly liked how he spoke about Network Literacy and the dying era of print. This has been very topical in class recently and obviously debated at great length in the symposium. Nelson agreed with Adrian’s point that print was just a passing form. It hasn’t been around since the beginning of time and other ways of communicating existed before print.

Nelson also predicted that:

“Offices will be paperless, as soon as people figure out what this means.”

Paperless offices is now a everyday term and many offices are already at this stage. He spoke about the cost of paper and shipping which is true but now, it is true in another regard with the focus on the environment and the damage caused by deforestation. Paper is expensive to the planet.

Nelson considered the change in structure of education, a point he made immediately after. Schools are now full of computers and in many cases they are completely replacing books.

All in all, the parallels of what he predicted and today’s world are spookingly accurate. The whole concept of hypertext and the language Nelson used to describe them would have been completely foreign in the early 1990’s, however, now it is common and integrated into everyday life.

As much as I seem to be glorifying Nelson (the seer!), his ideas did lean to the extreme side at times, which is particularly obvious when reading this with the hindsight and knowledge we have now. Nelsons’ statement:

“If humanity survives the next century…”

This statement is somewhat haunting. However, also could be said at any point – not to be a pessimist or morbid but with things such as atomic bombs this is a potential reality. As extreme as it may sound it’s not a ridiculous consideration.

All in all, I really enjoyed this reading, Nelson’s writing style was intriguing and easy to read which can be rare in some other readings and I am still amazed at the accuracy of his statements and the portrait of today’s world that he painted.

My request is simple: more readings like this one and I’ll be a very happy student!

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