BookReview: Literary Machines
by Theodor Holm Nelson, The Distributors, 1987
Nelson is an idealist libertarian. Fed up with the so-called technoid approach to computers, he tries to make them more pallatable to the end user. Hypertext is a term he coined when he started the Xanadu project.
The book provides a terse and simplistic introduction of Xanadu and hypertext. First he explains the world today with all of its problems and restrictions. He claims that hypertext will solve the information management problem. A chronology of Xanadu including acknowledgements of major contributors is provided. Some problems in the education system are presented as a connection to the information problem. Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think" is included in its entirety.
The rest (and majority) of the book is devoted to Xanadu itself, including tumblers, enfilades, versioning, links, authoring, publishing, ... Some of the concepts are pretty detailed and others are not described due to their proprietary nature. The business/development plan, legal documents for publishing, and the description of silverstands(tm)--public access terminal repositories to the Xanadu system--are covered in detail.
Some comments. He is certainly visionary, but at the same time the book appears to be written in a sort of science fiction-like fashion. The silverstands(tm) are a good point, but to plan how the culture will develop around a new technology is a little too much fiction. The system is only in the prototype phase and many of the critical concepts (back-end protocol, BEBE, for example) have yet to be worked out to make the system viable for mass marketing and world-wide distribution. By the time the technology is mature enough--it seems to me at least--our culture will have radically changed. Perhaps it will first take off in Japan in which case how will silverstands be applicable? In my opinion, Nelson's strong stance on these issues weakens his primary goal. Finally, he assumes the system software will be sold which contradicts my experience in popular systems. There are two types of systems that become popular: those bundled with the hardware and those that are given away. I think this is the weak point in his plan.
Via Rob 1990
◀ BackBookReview: Literary MachinesBookReview: The Imperative of ResponsibilityBookReview: Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of American HistoryBookReview: Pieces of My MindBookReview: The Programmer's ApprenticeBookReview: Economics, Peace, & LaughterBookReview: Travels With Charley: In Search of AmericaBookReview: WorkingBookReview: Babies and Other Hazards of SexBookReview: Text, ConText, and HyperTextBookReview: The Importance of Being EarnestBookReview: The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian WorldviewBookReview: One-Dimensional ManBookReview: On Liberty▲ Most Recent
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