it was (almost) forty years ago today

On the 9th December 2008, it will be 40 years since Doug Engelbart’s Mother of all Demos (as it’s come to be known, thanks to Steven Levy using the phrase to describe the event in his 1994 book Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer That Changed Everything).

More information on this seminal event, including clips and commentary, can be had at the MouseSite page covering the demo. And a complete streaming video of the demo is available via Google Video.

To quote the Wikipedia article:

The demo featured the first computer mouse the public had ever seen, as well as introducing interactive text, video conferencing, teleconferencing, email and hypertext.

Go, marvel as a future we are only now lurching towards is laid out for all to see on a stage in California, 40 years ago.

Be incredibly frustrated that it’s two generations later and we still haven’t made it as far as Engelbart could already see us getting only a year after the Summer of Love.

Despair further by slipping off and reading Vannevar Bush’s 1945 essay, ‘As We May Think’. Bush was thinking mechanically, not computationally, but his Memex still presages the Internet and interactive computing with remarkable prescience.

For the final kick in the pants of your optimism, consider that this 1945 essay is a fairly minor re-working of an earlier piece, ‘Mechanization and the Record’ which Bush wrote in 1939.

For those with at least a little optimism left, there will be a big celebration of the Mother of All Demos at Stanford University, California, on the actual anniversary. Stanford is also hosting a Program for the Future conference on December 8 and 9.

If you’re in the area on the day, I’d recommend going.

If you aren’t, there’s always the pages covering the 30th anniversary celebration, engelbart’s unfinished revolution, also hosted by Stanford.

I’m confident they will distract you nicely. I take no responsibility for any further despair (or hope) they engender.

Author: Brian Forte