Ted Nelson: Genius Or Psychic? | Week Four Reading Reflection

This weeks reading by Theodor Nelson is really quite astounding. Published in 1992, Nelson proposes a stream of theories and predictions based on hypertext and computer technologies for the future. Although some concepts raised were quite difficult to comprehend, it is very interesting to compare his speculations to our current means of technology and usage.

Seemingly, during the period of authorship, the entire field of technology and computing systems was a bit of a mess. The design and functional properties of computers at the time was extremely disorganised and opened ‘whole new realms of disorder, difficulty and complication for humanity.’ Whilst some attempted to embrace the new technology, many others were hateful towards it and were hopeful that the notion wouldn’t take off.

Nelson however developed his own approach to the matter. He claimed that these problems would be solved if attention was directed to the re-design and simplification of the technology.  This, in turn, would create a more user-friendly experience and provide knowledge across platforms via hypertext.

He then delves into is the concept of ‘Project Xanadu,’ which was something I’d never heard of. He explains the project as a ‘hyper-text system to support all the features of these other systems.’ Xanalogical structure was based upon one pool of storage that can be shared and simultaneously organised in many different ways. This ideal sounds much like the fundamentals of the Internet, which makes me wonder if the later birth of the Internet in 1989 was an expansion off Xanadu Sytem or if the Internet instead dominated the idea of Xanadu out of the picture.

The section that struck me the most was ‘The 2020 Vision.’ The following excerpt is particularly remarkable:

“Forty years from now (if the human species survives), there will be hundreds of thousands of file servers—machines storing and dishing out materials. And there will be hundreds of millions of simultaneous users, able to read from billions of stored documents, with trillions of links among them”

Nelson is scarily accurate. For one, the human species have survived – hooray! But we are also living within this digital age, surrounded by these ‘machines’ that offer us a world of information at our fingertips. According to Internet World Stats, the system is an infinite resource containing almost a billion websites (not to mention pages) and there are currently seven billion avid Internet users across the globe. It is amazing to consider the dramatic proliferation that technology has undergone in such a short span of time, and how on Earth Nelson was able to predict this with such accuracy almost forty years prior. It is hard to imagine how much more advanced it can get in the next forty years, but I am so curious and excited to find out!

Technology is awesome. That is all.



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