The real value in TN’s work is not that you can take his ideas verbatim and make the next Mother of all Demos. It’s that you can look at current, existing, working systems (which have the merits of keeping planes in the air and running the embedded firmwares of pacemakers and letting me type this comment right now) and be like - hey, this Ted guy had some pretty neat ideas that we probably do want to add in our flawed-but-functional systems because even though he didn’t write an OS kernel or a seminal algorithms textbook, he still pursued some crazy lines of thought that very few others have.
I feel that it helps me think about ways that the computer isn’t utilized enough yet. There are many fields and many people where computers aren’t utilized whatsoever, where a lot of money, frustration, delay and other negativity can be dealt with by using computers. Additionally, there’s a whole world of entertainment out there that’s just unexplored in its entirety, we haven’t seen what computers are really capable of yet at all. I’m personally very optimistic about its future (in contrast to AI-doomsayers, wtf is that about), and hope that the non-nerdy people will learn to utilize computers for what they can mean for you, like paper or books, but way more flexible, albeit less ubiquitous.
The first part of that paragraph is better illustrated by /u/nulalgorithom on hackernews in response to the question
What tech that's right around the corner are you most excited about?
New, exciting tech making its way in to boring, old industries. And I mean boring, old industries.
There’s an unbelievable amount of backwards business process that’s still out there. Unless you’ve experienced it first hand, I really don’t think you can fully appreciate how manual the “business world” still is.
For the past year I’ve been working with an intermodal trucking company building an app for owner-operator truck drivers so they can accept/reject deliveries, turn in paperwork, and update delivery statuses via a mobile app. If that sounds dead simple, it’s because it is. But the change it brings is amazing.
While deploying the app I’d often ask when so-and-so truck driver came in to the office. The answer was usually something like “every day at 5:00pm to drop off his paperwork”. A week after they start using the app, the answer suddenly turns in to “Oh, he never comes in to the office. You’ll have to call his cell.”
Dispatchers that were tearing their hair out trying to get updates from their drivers so they can in turn update their customers now feel like they can manage double the trucks. They’re asking if they can get a similar app on their phone so they can manage their drivers on the go. Managers are asking when they’ll be able to ditch the office space they’re renting and let everyone work from home.
When I tell people “It’s like Uber for intermodal trucking”, nobody cares. If they pretend to care, I have to explain what intermodal trucking is in the first place – then they stop pretending. It doesn’t sound “sexy”. It’s a boring industry.
I think there’s a lot of boring industry out there that hasn’t fully embraced technology, and I think when it finally does we’ll see a cultural change in the way we view work.
The second half by Bret Victor, in his drawing dead fish talk. Bret showed me technology that blew my mind 4 years ago, and is still blowing my mind every day today. But now I’m beginning to realize that this is really just the beginning, as an example, if musicians start to work together with computers to perform live composition, I’d love to see what someone of the likes of Adam Neely could do with an evolved version of the software shown in Bret’s talk to perform a live show. The possibilities here are mind blowing, for real.
Post Scriptum: oh and yeah, to get into any TN material in depth you have to learn to ignore all the times where he can’t help but talk about how a genius 6 year old Ted Nelson already had all this figured out because - and I’m saying this as a huge TN fanboy - that shit gets old.
Hahaha yeah, I’ve seen him claim (half-jokingly) to be the inventor of Steve Jobs, amongst others. I think his arrogance is kind of funny, as I feel like I like his personality/ideas so much because I strongly relate to his style of thinking; all over the place, so I don’t mind too much.