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Alan Kay

"the best way to predict the future is to invent it."
This nOde last updated September 19th, 2003 and is permanently morphing...
(3 Cauac (Rain) / 7 Ch'en (Black) - 159/260 -

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Atari Apple Computer

Alan Kay, was one of television's original quiz kids. He learned to read at the age of two and a half, barely managed to avoid being thrown out of school and the Air internal linkForce, and ended up as a graduate student at one of the most important centers of ARPA research. In the 1970s, Kay was one of the guiding software spirits of PARC's Alto project (the first true personal computer) and the chief architect of Smalltalk, a new  kind of computer internal linklanguage. He started the 1980s as a director of internal linkAtari  Corporation's long-term research effort, and in 1984 he left Atari to become a "research fellow" for internal linkApple Corporation.

Along with his hard-won credentials as one of the rare original thinkers who is able to implement his thoughts via the craft of software design, Kay also has a reputation as a lifelong insubordinate. Since the first time he was thrown out of a classroom for knowing more than the  teacher, Kay's avowed goal has been to build a "fantasy amplifier" that anyone with an internal linkimagination could use to explore the world of knowledge on their own, a "dynamic  medium for creative thought" that could be as useful and  thought-provocative to children in kindergarten as it would  be to scientists in a research laboratory.

-_Tools For Thought_ by Howard Rheingold

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One of the most compelling snares is the use of the term metaphor to describe a correspondence between what the users see on the screen and how they should think about what they are manipulating ... There are clear connotations to the stage, theatrics, internal linkmagic; all of which give much stronger hints as to the direction to be  followed. For example, the screen as 'paper to be marked on' is a metaphor that suggests pencils, brushes,  and typewriting....Should we transfer the paper metaphor so perfectly that the screen is as hard as paper to erase and change? Clearly not. If it is to be like magical paper, then it is the magical part that is all important...

Alan Kay, "User internal linkInterface: A Personal View"

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Islands in the Clickstream:
What's His Name

I have never had a single original idea.

I recently came to this humbling truth from two directions.

The first was triggered by a recent article on the internal linkevolution of modular programming. Alan Kay is a name frequently connected to that event. Kay has had a brilliant career. One biography states that he is "one of the fathers of the idea of Object Oriented Programming."

But Kay learned about modular programming from an anonymous Air Force programmer before he went to internal linkXerox PARC.

We know Kay's name ... but we don't know the name of the man who made that breakthrough. He is the Unknown Programmer, one of the million minds that created the hive in which we are buzzing today.

Identity is a function of boundaries.  Identity is destiny.

Who we believe ourselves to be determines what we think we are capable of being and doing. That's why seminars, internal linkintensives, or retreats designed to blow away our presuppositions about ourselves and replace them with farther horizons can have so much power in our lives. When we draw the boundaries out farther, we can internal linkimagine ourselves doing what our larger identities allow us to do. We are exhilarated at the feelings of renewal and rebirth that attend such events.

That's also why the only way to deny another person their intrinsic freedom and power is to convince them that their boundaries are constrained. When we believe that our power is limited, we don't use it.

In internal linktimes like ours, when internal linkboundaries are dissolving and redrawing themselves in ways more appropriate to the social, political, and economic complexities of our
trans-global and increasingly trans-planetary culture, most of us are not bored. We may be exhilarated, we may be terrified - we imagine ourselves hiking the red
deserts of Mars or we think that the Taliban are pretty good role models - but we are not bored.

Many breakthrough discoveries are indexed in cells in the internal linkmatrix we call "history" with the names of  "geniuses" attached. Genius is a relatively new concept, one of the consequences of the Renaissance, along with notions of individuality, ideas of rights and intellectual property, and boundaries around "nation states." One can imagine monks toiling in medieval monasteries to create illuminated manuscripts having a hard time trying to conceive of a "genius" creating a "work" the rights to
which he "owns."

The output of their collective effort was the result of an open source model of internal linkreality. The truth is that, like Alan Kay inheriting principles from a nameless programmer who internal linkhacked modular programming, the transmission of ideas is the result of aggregated intelligence that creates conditions in which ideas grow and prosper, a culture that fosters tinkering and the search for ingenious solutions, one that encourages the sharing of internal linkinformation. That culture is hacking culture in its essence.
information in formation...

Ideas want to be free because it is their essence to be free. Every breakthrough idea is always the result of thousand of minds adding their little bit to the internal linkprocess until one day the internal linkcritical mass of converging possibilities is focussed through a "genius" who stumbles into a solution. We don't know how to give a Nobel Prize to everybody in the world.

Our model of reality matters. Our model of reality determines the questions we can think, how we define problems, look for solutions. Our model determines who we
think we are.

Our model of reality determines our identity. And identity is destiny.

I mentioned coming to this from a second direction as well.

Life is humbling. The longer we live, the shorter the time we have to live. That foreshortening of perspective does interesting things to the clarity of our vision.

Every time I have an insight, it's only a matter of time before I read or hear of someone else having that insight too. My original thinking is always a symptom of the
spirit of the time looking for minds through which to articulate itself.

When I was in college, I saved what I wrote, wanting to preserve my original insights for posterity. Now I can't get ideas into the world fast enough, hoping that someone may find them useful for the moment, the way a chimpanzee will pick up this or that stick to get internal linkhoney from a internal linkbeehive.

Nobody owns that stick. Nobody owns ideas. Humanity is a hive mind processing data and experience, creating transitory models of reality in which energy and
information momentarily internal linkflow.

Individuality is an illusion, a convenient illusion, true, but an illusion nevertheless. We are all part of a single internal linkevolution in which the elements of the earth seek to become conscious. Now that we inhabit our planet like a brain outgrowing its head, now that we know that evolution includes the elements of all planets seeking to
become conscious,  we are realizing that boundaries around our species or any species are a convenience appropriate to our current stage of growth or understanding.

Every time we encounter the Other with a full awareness of what is happening, we flip into another way entirely of understanding our identity, our destiny.

Meanwhile, I still act as if I know, because I must. It helps to move the day along. It's still how "I" think about things.

Within that model, what can I articulate in the local dialect of my tribe? That we are not who we think we are? That our origin and destination are not what we think?

Not this. Not that.

Everything I know is a gift from others, here there and everywhere.

The herd is a peasant culture, hunkering down, eyes on the ground, suspicious of the new. Despite my exhilaration ... I too share the destiny of the herd. The herd's beating heart is my heart, its hot flanks my flanks, trembling with anticipation.

Eyes on the ground as it brightens suddenly in the night, unwilling to raise my gaze, risk blindness in the inexplicable splendor of a midnight sunrise.

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