“A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect.”

Ginger toots

CC image posted on Flicker by bcostin

Engelbart describes his research at the Stanford Research Institute as “man-computer” interaction with the goal of “reaching the point where we can do all of our work on line (234). This, he explains, will be accomplished by an NLS (online system) that is both a tool and the means. He uses the term “bootstrapping” to explain how his group is structured for collaboration to “build and try,” and in an evolutionary way, to study and modify the computer program continually.

Deleuze and Guattari, in their article “A Thousand Plateaus,” written twelve years later, uses the metaphor of a rhizome to describe and expand on the complex structure of Engelbart’s vision. Unlike a tree, that has one trunk with many roots, a rhizome is a bulb-like structure that although  connected to the whole, is itself a complete unit (hierarchy) “a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, [and] modifiable” (409).

Creating signifiers for the signified (Deleuze and Guattari 407) which are easily understandable for global users has been an important aspect of achieving, what was clear from Engelbarts’ demonstration, the vision of mass public use of computer technology.   For me, Shneiderman’s article, “Direct Manipulation,” immediately brought to mind a metaphor of my own for the computer system process.

I thought of a sewing machine. Like a rhizome, the sewing machine performs its action ―two hands, a needle, and thread, forming individual stitches from above and below— to connect together pieces of fabric to create a complete product.

The purpose of the product, a garment in the case of the sewing machine , can be utility, beauty, ritual, or a number of things relevant to a culture, similar to products created on a computer. I visualize Engelbart’s diagram of the organization of NLS as similar to the threading of a sewing machine. Both, once complicated maneuvers performed by hand, are now linked together by the most elementary users of digital technology.

This reminds me of something else, for  like the rhizomatic action of NLS, my thinking is quite recursive today — Did the birth of the computer fulfill a need, or create one?

Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Nick Montfort, eds. The New Media Reader. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattaro. From “A Thousand Plateaus.” Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort 407-409.

Engelbart, Douglas and William English. “A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect.” Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort 231-246.

Shneiderman, Ben. “Direct Manipulation: A Step Beyond Programming Languages.” Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort 485-498.


Posted on March 11, 2012, in ENGL 539 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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