Yesterday’s Tomorrow

Douglas Englebart 1968Several years ago, I came across a link to these video clips of a seminal 1968 presentation by Douglas Englebart. This was before I began blogging, so I lost the link somewhere in Outlook, but today I happily rediscovered it while browsing Ramana Rao’s “Information Flow Newsletter.” In the presentation, Englebart, who led a group of researchers at the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, CA., was demonstrating an ‘online’ system, an information console that was designed to be ‘perfectly responsive.’ This occasion was not only the public debut of the computer mouse, but it also showcased several key concepts, now commonplace and familiar: hypertext, object addressing, dynamic file addressing and remote collaboration.

Title Cards

The video, divided here into thirty-five(!) RealAudio segments, is not only historically significant, but it’s also uncommonly beautiful. Englebart, with the calm, assured manner of a kindly uncle, narrated the audience through a series of quietly innovative computer tasks, and it feels like listening in on a relaxation therapy session. The image is cropped in such a way that his head is disembodied like some sort of ghost, and it is often superimposed on top of the screen itself, achieving an effect that is bizarrely evocative of postmodern painting.

Stills from the Video