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Author: Frode Hegland

Power Tools for the mind. Why the Tech Matters

#I am writing this since there are many who maintain that when it comes to intellectual work ‘it’s not about the tools, it’s about the human side’ and that ‘what the world needs now is not different types of links’. This is in the shadow of discussions of the greatest demo the world has ever seen. On the 9th of December 1968 Doug Engelbart did not stand on a stage and talk about his strategic vision or the philosophy behind the work – vitally important as though that is. He didn’t tell us anything. He showed us. He demonstrated. It was a ‘demo’ – not a sermon nor an outline of how we should work in an ideal world. #


#There were no days when the only tools we needed to build a dwelling was our own hands to break some twine and fashion a cover above us. Homo sapiens come from a long line of tool users, we have always been tool users. There were definitely days where the tools we used were rudimentary and direct – a simple hammer striking a nail of some sort and into wood it would settle. #

#The power and control the tools provide determines the power and control we have over what we want to build. We could not have built a sky scraper with hammer and nail and certainly not a high speed car, train or aeroplane with any tool which did not exist until their invention – tools make what we use to dwell and transport us possible. #

#It is the same with mental tools. We could not build anything beyond the most rudimentary without tools to help us plan and even to conceive of the project. This highlights the need for powerful “ Tools for Thought” (Rheingold, 2000), as Howard Rheingold put it. #

#Mental Reach Through Rich Interactivity#

#Out mental reach is as determined by our tools as much as our physical reach is. #

#“What I hear, I forget. What I say, I remember. What I do, I understand.” Said Laozi. It is the ‘doing’ that matters and to do more, to reach further, to determine what you seen and how you see, we need to built ever more powerful interactive tools and media. You cannot see further than your telescope allows. You cannot drive longer than your fuel tank allows. Similarly, you cannot reach deeper into the information than your information manipulation tools allow you to do. #

#Our basic human muscles are augmented for locomotion and our basic human mental capabilities are augmented for mental motion, as enabled by our tools and our education. #

#Ever Deeper Literacy#

#I advocate what I call the continual evolution of ever more powerful tools to allow for ever increasing deeper literacy. It’s not enough to become a master of the tools we use, we need to use the tools to provide further depths and power, we need to use our tools to bootstrap ourselves. These are Doug terms and I don’t use them just for fun, my exhortation here about the importance of building ever more powerful tools is indeed rooted in his framework, XXX#

#This is why different kinds of links matter. You cannot interact with something you cannot point to or grasp. Doug advocated high resolution addressing and this will change the very flexibility of our mental spaces. #

#Frameworks (yes, they matter)#

#As a friend of Doug’s I feel I need to highlight that I am not talking tools and tech without a framework. The reason for Doug’s success comes from his philosophy but his philosophy was not simply a love of knowledge, it was a direction for the creation and refinement of human and tool systems. #

#As a teacher and father I feel I must also acknowledge the prime importance of the human side of the equation and yes, I put my money where my mouth is: I made the point at a conference with over 40 world leaders just last week that this is really about ‘Love’, a surprising comment which my friend the moderator needed to ask me 3 times to repeat since it seemed so out of place. What I am writing here does not aim to denigrate any of the other important components just because it highlights the importance of actually building continually improved tools.#

#Furthermore, for those who feel we have ‘enough’ technology and we simply need to use it better, I simply ask you if you are really sure that’s the case. Can you see an improvement in AI and computer games graphics for example? If so, then please apply the same imagination level to the future of knowledge work tools. #

#Conclusion, Invitation#

#This is why there is a passionate community at working to build something, and we need dialogue with the wider community to guide what we build. I therefore propose that the wider community joins us on discussions on Fridays (4pm GMT) to discuss the actual demo in terms of what to show and why – even to the point of writing a script. #

#Will you join us?#

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