Preamble to PhD, 23 Jun, 11:27

My friend and mentor Doug Engelbart sent me the following email:


I honestly think that you are the first person I know that is expressing the kind of appreciation for the special role which IT can (no, will) play in reshaping the way we can symbolize basic concepts to elevate further the power that conditioned humans can derive from their genetic sensory, perceptual and cognitive capabilities.

Engelbart, 2003

My intent with this PhD project is to pursue this legacy by pushing as far as I can beyond what current text interactions are, towards a state of richer text-interaction systems resulting in a deeper literacy for the user. The work will centre around a software system developed quite literally from a blank slate, where a major work output will be the continuous exploration and research being written up and made accessible to others who are also wrestling to get the most out of the written word.

My initial user community will be scholars who are interested in improving their textual document interactions, not simply following the paper-like models we have inherited quite blindly. I have already starting connecting with such individuals and building a nascent community. 

The areas of inquiry will then include areas outside of computer science, since it is of course the user I aim to augment, not the computer systems. There will be limits to the depth of research I can do in the other fields of course, so I will focus primarily on the implementation and testing on the software system, inspired by the insights gleamed from other fields. 

My direction therefore mirrors Doug’s own, though this is a different project and I come at it from my own point of view:

The conceptual framework we seek must orient us toward the real possibilities and problems associated with using modern technology to give direct aid to an individual in:

comprehending complex situations, 

isolating the significant factors, and 

solving problems.

Engelbart, 1962