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Knowledge work is not all in the mind

Last updated on October 9, 2018

A basketball player dunks from across the court, a footballer dribbles past to a perfect shooting spot and a dancer swirls and spins and the crow goes wild.  

Meanwhile, back in the office the knowledge worker fires up Microsoft Word, hacks out a few sentences and asks a colleague for help since they’re not that ‘techie’ and then at lunch looks across the cafe at the geeks with stickers on their laptops clicking away and doesn’t reflect on their virtuosity but reflects on their ‘sadness’ and listens to *Insert name of country here*’s Got Talent in the evening and almost weeps at the beautifully sung performance in the evening and considers that just a ‘talent’, not taking into account the hours and hours the singer spent perfecting and learning to control her voice. The very next morning the office worker watches a marketing video with brilliant effects presented by the marketing team and wish they had such computer skills, then takes another bite of the donut and half-thinks about that promise of starting to go to the gym, a thought interrupted by the dread of having to write that quarterly report comes to mind – it’s just too hard , too many things to juggle – “my job is to sell these things, that’s an intellectual and social job, not to write complicated reports like John is too good at, but then, he’s such a geek, he’s good with computers”… 

Why is it that knowledge work is seen by so many as being something in the mind and that computers are just the things you use to write down their genius ideas? Knowledge work is not all in the mind. 

Artists sketch their ideas out on paper – they think with paper. Scientist think with diagrams and babies learn with toys. Work happens somewhere and that somewhere is our brains extended with our tools; both mental tools and physical/virtual tools. 

Computer game players know this and demand not just better graphics in every new games platform but also better ‘gameplay’ – better ways to move in the virtual world to achieve your objective. Yet with knowledge work we are still using virtual dead paper in the form of PDF documents and word processors like Microsoft Word which have not seen significant upgrades in at least 20 years. Where is the demand from knowledge workers for better ‘gameplay’ for work systems? 

Cells were not seen until we had microscopes and the moon was not trod upon until we had rocket ships. Before we had writing we did not have reliable means to freeze our thoughts and to consult them later and this changed our species from one living in a moment to one living and collaborating across time and space. Now we have digital text and the frozen record can be consulted in ways previously yet we are only so very slightly scratching the surface of this new intellectual opportunity. What intellectual breakthroughs will become possible with more powerful knowledge systems? 

I invite you to join me to try to find out, at least as a tiny initial potential Punctum Archimedis, as we work to develop something useful to demo on the 9th of December 2018, on the 50th anniversary of Doug Engelbart’s ‘mother of all demos’. We blog here: and we are building more powerful ways to read and write and to connect the two through more powerful publishing:  

In our are people who worked with Doug Engelbart, are changing academia from within, one guy co-invented the internet, another was one of the original Macintosh coders, a word processor developer and another who created Siri. We all have other jobs but we all share the passion of the potential of building ever more powerful knowledge augmentation systems. 

Doesn’t it all sound just great? Why not get VC or angel funding one might ask? We have tried and we are told it’s too academic and the market is locked into Word and PDF. We have asked for academic funding too and get the opposite reply: This seems too useful and commercial for funding.  

We have the energy and the will to knock a dent in the universe for the better, and we also have a cunning plan; we plan to make PDFs our Trojan horses, by embedding rich documents in them so that when a user publishes from the new and more powerful systems and someone who only has a PDF reader, they can read the PDF basic version but someone who has the new software can open the rich document and keep all the rich interactions and meta data.  

We also have a need for help. We need ideas, perspectives and funds for professional coders to do some of the heavy lifting. Do you want to be a part of the future of thought?

Published inDougDemo@50Why?

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