Ted Nelson

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Theodore H. Nelson (born June 17, 1937) coined the word "hypertext" in the sixties and envisioned a global network similar to (though arguably superior to) the Web in the seventies.


  • A user interface should be so simple that a beginner in an emergency can understand it within 10 seconds.
  • I hope, that in our archives and historical filings of the future, we do not allow the techie traditions of hierarchy and false regularity to be superimposed to the teeming, fantastic disorderlyness of human life.
  • Most people are fools, most authority is malignant, God does not exist, and everything is wrong.
  • The World Wide Web was precisely what we were trying to PREVENT— ever-breaking links, links going outward only, quotes you can't follow to their origins, no version management, no rights management.
  • [Of the web] It's massively successful. It is trivially simple. Massively successful like karaoke - anybody can do it.
  • We should not impose regularity where it does not exist.
  • I have long been alarmed by people’s sheeplike acceptance of the term ‘computer technology’ — it sounds so objective and inexorable — when most computer technology is really a bunch of ideas turned into conventions and packages.

Computer Lib/Dream Machines (1974, rev. 1987)[edit]

  • You can and must understand computers now!
    • Slogan. (The insistence that ordinary people need to understand computers is remarkable for its era: the first personal computers were not available until 1975.)
  • Everything is deeply intertwingled.
    • Computer Lib p. 42 / Dream Machines p.45
  • It is imperative for many reasons that the appalling gap between public and computer insider be closed. As the saying goes, war is too important to be left to the generals. Guardianship of the computer can no longer be left to a priesthood. I see this as just one example of the creeping evil of Professionalism, the control of aspects of society by cliques of insiders. There may be some chance, though, that Professionalism can be turned around. Doctors, for example, are being told that they no longer own people’s bodies. And this book may suggest to some computer professionals that their position should not be as sacrosanct as they have thought, either.
    • Computer Lib
  • I see Professionalism as a spreading disease of the present-day world, a sort of poly-oligarchy by which various groups (subway conductors, social workers, bricklayers) can bring things to a halt if their particular demands are not met. (Meanwhile, the irrelevance of each profession increases, in proportion to its increasing rigidity.) Such lucky groups demand more in each go-round - but meantime, the number who are permanently unemployed grows and grows.
    • Computer Lib
  • If computers are the wave of the future, displays are the surfboards.
    • Dream Machines, p 22.
  • In order for something to Catch On, it has to be standardized. Unfortunately, there is motivation for different companies to make their own little changes in order to restrict users to their own products. The best example of how to avoid this: Philips patented its audio cartridge [i.e. the standard audio "cassette"] to the teeth, but then granted everyone free use of the patent provided they adhered to the exact standard. The result has been the system's spectacular success, and Philips, rather than dominating a small market, has a share of a far larger market, and hence makes more money. That's a virtue-rewarded kind of story.
    • Dream Machines
  • Everybody has only a 24-hour day. Most people, if they increase consumption of one medium (like magazines or books) will cut down on another (like TV). This drastically reduces the sort of growth some people have been expecting.
    • Dream Machines

    As far as I can tell these are the techniques used by bright people who want to learn something other than by taking courses in it. [...]

    1. DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO LEARN. But you can't know this exactly, because you don't know exactly how any field is structured until you know all about it.

    2. READ EVERYTHING YOU CAN ON IT, especially what you enjoy, since that way you can read more of it and faster.

    3. GRAB FOR INSIGHTS. Regardless of points others are trying to make, when you recognize an insight that has meaning for you, make it your own [...] Its importance is not how central it is, but how clear and interesting and memorable to you. REMEMBER IT. Then go for another.

    4. TIE INSIGHTS TOGETHER. Soon you will have your own string of insights in a field. [...]

    5. CONCENTRATE ON MAGAZINES, NOT BOOKS. Magazines have far more insights per inch of text, and can be read much faster. But when a book really speaks to you, lavish attention on it.


    7. GO TO CONVENTIONS. For some reason, conventions are a splendid concentrated way to learn things; talking to people helps. [...]

    8. "FIND YOUR MAN." Somewhere in the world is someone who will answer your questions extraordinarily well. If you find him, dog him. [...]

    9. KEEP IMPROVING YOUR QUESTIONS. Probably in your head there are questions that don't seem to line up with what your hearing. Don't assume that you don't understand; keep adjusting the questions till you get an answer that relates to what you wanted.

    10. YOUR FIELD IS BOUNDED WHERE YOU WANT IT TO BE. Just because others group and stereotype things in conventional ways does not mean they are necessarily right. Intellectual subjects are connected every which way; your field is what you think it is. [...]

    • Dream Machines


  • Ted Nelson: Computer Lib/Dream Machine. Self-published, 1974, revised 1987. ISBN 0-89347-002-3.
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