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If Digital Academic Documents were invented today

Last updated on July 29, 2021

I can picture a scenario where Joe from Doug Engelbart’s 1962 paper Augmenting Human Intellect is transported to today. Joe: What you have today in 2021 makes what we had in 1962 so very archaic. You have more memory for a single image on your watch than we had in the system we developed Augment for and demonstrated in 1968. Your internet is unbelievably fast and your artificial intelligence is advanced enough to understand human speech, replicate human speech, have your cars drive autonomously for long stretches of time, and the visual effects in many interactive games looks almost completely realistic. What a time of innovation, this is incredible!

So you have made academic documents digital!

That’s great, you must have such incredible ways to view and connect and interact with the text!

I can imagine you have updated what we worked on in the sixties and that documents now are completely interactive, like in the movie Minority Report I recently saw. No? You are printing documents onto PDF? You cannot even select sections of text without error? Why are you using re-packaged postscript for sharing your documents? Do they at least contain all the metadata you need to cite them? No, you have to use ‘reference manager’ databases for this? How about citation timelines and views, that is easy right? No? For the same reason they don’t contain their own data?

When you are writing, you can at least cut and copy freely since the computer can remember everything you write correct? No? How about your video conversations, can you at least easily search them based on keywords later and can you link to specific sections? Really? Can you at least point to a specific point in time in real time in a video, such as 2pm? Oh. That’s not good.

Can you at least copy text from a digital book and paste as a link to that page in the book? You can’t copy at all because of the intellectual properly of the publisher?-but you bought the book!

Ok, you have the web now, can you not post your academic documents are web pages, or web documents? No? They are too likely to disappear if the web server goes down or the domain name rental is not paid? What about this ePub format I hear about, why is that not used in academia? Academics need to specify the cosmetics of the documents and there are still thousands of variations for how the documents should be formatted and references handled? Are you sure you are not joking–can you not invent a format where the reader chooses the display style?

Back to me: I’m sorry Joe, all we have is PDF but at least we are working on making some of what you asked for possible, via what we call Visual-Meta. BTW, it’s nice to see you again, being imaginary means you never went away :-)

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