Alan Kay on the a-historical nature of computer science and pop culture

Alan Kay: The PC Must Be Revamped—Now

By Allan E. Alter

PCs should help people learn, not merely perform tasks, the prize-winning computer scientist says.

Most of the ideas in that sphere, good ideas that would apply to business, were written down 40 years ago by Engelbart. But in the last few years I’ve been asking computer scientists and programmers whether they’ve ever typed E-N-G-E-L-B-A-R-T into Google-and none of them have. I don’t think you could find a physicist who has not gone back and tried to find out what Newton actually did. It’s unimaginable. Yet the computing profession acts as if there isn’t anything to learn from the past, so most people haven’t gone back and referenced what Engelbart thought.

The things that are wrong with the Web today are due to this lack of curiosity in the computing profession. And it’s very characteristic of a pop culture. Pop culture lives in the present; it doesn’t really live in the future or want to know about great ideas from the past. I’m saying there’s a lot of useful knowledge and wisdom out there for anybody who is curious, and who takes the time to do something other than just executing on some current plan. Cicero said, “Who knows only his own generation remains always a child.” People who live in the present often wind up exploiting the present to an extent that it starts removing the possibility of having a future.

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One response to “Alan Kay on the a-historical nature of computer science and pop culture

  1. Yep.

    Unfortunately he’s not “famous enought”, I think ? I first heard about him, when I looked up mouse in wikipedia. Later I get to know “Mother of all demos” so I became interested more.

    You know my hero was Edser Dijkstra ( “hello mr. Alan Kay” ;) ) because he described XP long before it became popular.

    Looking at Engelbart ( Engel Bart, angel brat ) he’s joining fellow-countryman Jan Komenský ( Comenius ) “teacher of nations”.

    The way things are communicated these days is much better (thanks to Komenský) but still not direct enough. Web was supposed to help it.

    These days:
    Information is scattering MUCH faster that it is converging & people are able to process.

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