The Matrix: MEME 2.08

MEME 2.08


"Computing is doomed. It is going away. Like the spread of reading with the advent of print, computing will become second nature and sink down into the everyday course of life."

David Liddle, CEO Interval Research Corporation.

The fertile lands of Northern California are dotted with vineyards, and empty hills rising around San Francisco, a sight that always startles me, a life-long New Yorker whose primary contact with nature are the two trees at the end of my block. Even with the crush of condominiums and the now pedestrian bloom of Silicon Valley to the south, nature thrives, minutes from the homes and labs that sit beside the Route 101, a stretch of highway connecting San Francisco with San Jose, the putative epicenter of high-tech. It was here, amidst the hills and vineyards, that in the late sixties a young generation of engineers and computer programmers redefined computing.


Awash with Federal research grants and a profits from a thriving economy, this generation redefined computing as an extension of human activity, as an "augmentation of man's intellect," transforming computing machines once seen as cold, calculating engines into playthings, assistants, vessels for fantasy and seemingly limitless possibility, what some called "knowledge navigators". That age, ushered in by the creation of "time sharing" and "minicomputers" in 1960, ended in 1969 with the creation of the mouse, "windows", "icons", ARPANET and the first commercial microprocessors. This legacy lives on today: we still use the same metaphors -- mice, windows, icons -- surf the same network, ARPANET's child Internet, and perceive computing as connected to screens, keyboards manipulating a fusion of text with icons. Many of these students, now grown-up, control the great high-tech companies of our age. Their work produced a culture, defining an age, the Age of Information, with Silicon Valley, home to Stanford University, Xerox PARC, Intel, Apple Computer, and the first leg of ARPANET which connected UCLA to a Sigma 7 computer at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park in September of 1969, as the cradle.


When I traveled to Interval Research two weeks ago, driving down Route 101 from the San Francisco airport, history was on my mind. I was sensing the first indications that this long cycle of computing was coming to a close, and a new wave, a wave spawned by the children of that generation, was coming forward, dimly visible. The first indications came to me in March when I served as moderator for ID Magazine's 42nd Annual Design Review. I was responsible for the Interactive Media category, and moderating between the four judges (Gloriana Davenport, of the MIT Media Lab; Tom Nicholson of Nicholson Associates, a multimedia design firm; Rick Prelinger, founder of the Prelinger Archive which contains 33,000 films; Kathleen Wilson, Creative Director for Viacom Interactive), who in turn had to evaluate over two hundred entries. After two full days of hands-on experimentation, glimmers of a trend emerged: the most creative designs came from students, and those designs made little reference to "the box" of the computer. The hammer-lock of &qu