Ted Nelson – an experience of water and interconnection

An excerpt with Ted Nelson explaining his work, in Werner Herzog’s documentary Lo and Behold.

Back to the very early times, times of speculative concepts of a connected world… in the early 60s, many years before the first Apple personal computer, a young thinker, Ted Nelson, had his own ideas about creating a computer network.

The web as we know it took a different route, but Nelson’s ideas are still dormant.

It was an experience of water and interconnection.

I was with my grandparents in a rowboat in Chicago, so I must have been five years old and I was trailing my hand in the water.

And I thought about how the water was moving around my fingers, opening on one side and closing on the other, and that changing system of relationships where everything was kind of similar, kind of the same and yet different.

That was so difficult to visualize and express,

and just generalizing that to the entire universe that the world is a system of ever changing relationships and structures struck me as… a vast truth… which it is!

And… so interconnection and expressing that interconnection has been the center of all my thinking, and all my computer work has been about expressing and representing and showing interconnection among writings especially.

And writing is the process of reducing a tapestry of interconnection to a narrow sequence.

And this is in a sense illicit.

This is a wrongful compression of what should spread out.

And today’s computers they’ve betrayed that because there’s no system for decent cut and paste and they’ve changed the meaning of the words “cut and paste” and pretended it was the same thing.

So a guy named Larry Tesler, whom I consider to be a good friend, nevertheless changed those words and I consider that to be a crime against humanity and he doesn’t understand why.

Because humanity has no decent writing tools.

In any case, this is the problem: interconnection and representation and sequentialization all… similar to the issue of water.

So here we have a parallel presentation that shows the quotation connected to its original context.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” and where is that from? That is from the King James Bible.

So we can step down to the next quotation.

“Adam and Lilith immediately began to fight” and that is from the Alphabet of ben Sira.

And so as we pull back we can see successive pages coming up to connect with their sources or with their linked contents.

His vision of links never materialized.

By some he was labeled insane for clinging on.

There are two contradictory slogans.

One is that continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.

On the other hand, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

I prefer the latter because I don’t want to be remembered as the guy who didn’t.

No, to us you appear to be the only one around who is clinically sane.

No one has ever said that before.

Usually I hear the opposite.

Thank you very much for talking with us.

It was wonderful.

Marvelous.

What a team.

Yes, now it’s your turn.