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Possiplex: Movies, Intellect, Creative Control, My Computer Life and the Fight for Civilization

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The autobiography of a controversial thinker, Ted Nelson, who is the person who first conceived many of the concepts central to the digital revolution, only to see many of the concepts realized in ways he deemed incompatible with his vision.


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The autobiography of a controversial thinker, Ted Nelson, who is the person who first conceived many of the concepts central to the digital revolution, only to see many of the concepts realized in ways he deemed incompatible with his vision.

47 review for Possiplex: Movies, Intellect, Creative Control, My Computer Life and the Fight for Civilization

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dav

    I believe this is the best autobiography I've ever read. It feels raw and intimate and intense, the kind of experience you would expect if you actually got to know someone as they told you their life story at length over a series of encounters in pubs and over tea. Ironically, since the process of editing is central to Nelson's life's work, it could use some serious editing, but this just adds to the sense of sometimes breathless focus that comes from someone telling the most personal story they I believe this is the best autobiography I've ever read. It feels raw and intimate and intense, the kind of experience you would expect if you actually got to know someone as they told you their life story at length over a series of encounters in pubs and over tea. Ironically, since the process of editing is central to Nelson's life's work, it could use some serious editing, but this just adds to the sense of sometimes breathless focus that comes from someone telling the most personal story they could ever tell. It is a story that is both under-told and important to our understanding of the past (and how it defines the present). Ted Nelson's influence on the shaping of our digital culture is hard to trace. He was incredibly prescient and exposed his ideas to many of the people who ultimately directly shaped this culture. It took decades for some of his predictions to appear. He clearly saw a vision of the future that was such a leap forward that it was incomprehensible to nearly everyone at the time. Perhaps the seeds he planted helped others eventually see the vision themselves when they began to implement their interpretations (interpretations that were twisted away from Nelson's in various ways). Or perhaps Nelson just read the writing on the wall first, but others independently figured it out on their own, as often happens in innovation. I've been a fan (apparently one of the few) of Ted Nelson and his ideas since first reading about him back in the early 90s. I even tried downloading some of the open source code related to his ideas back then (I guess it was one of the ZigZag projects) but couldn't make heads or tails of it. Because of this long-time (if sporadic and slight) influence, I suppose I'm predisposed to be sympathetic to his viewpoint. I had never really known much about him though, so I was surprised to find out how intellectually similar our tastes ran. For instance, one thing I have recently been contemplating is how computer interfaces are becoming more cinematic in nature, especially in mobile platforms like the iPhone and iPad. It turns out cinema was one of the main intellectual forces shaping Nelson's thoughts (he calls himself a Showman-Intellectual). For instance, he says in the book that computer interfaces are a branch of movie-making, because they are all about what the user thinks and feels, and inviting the user to think certain ways [...] and feel certain ways. Another sentiment I appreciated was Nelson's reasoning that: The computer is a philosophy machine. What is philosophy? The search for the best abstractions. What was the fundamental problem of the computer? The search for the best abstractions. It was philosophy written in lightning. Possiplex joins a circle of other books I've read recently that all tackle the history and cultural implications of the digital revolution from different perspectives. The others are You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, What Technology Wants, Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age. Each of these tell a different version of the common history. The characters, and often the authors, of one book appear in others and sometimes in not flattering ways. The future of our culture will continue to be shaped by the digital revolution. If you are interested in that future then you should be interested in the relevant history, so I suggest reading all four of these as they each give different analysis of the past and the present. In the end, this autobiography is plainly stated to be Nelson's attempt to make sure his version of history does not go unwritten. He states: "History" in a popular sense is a tale of the past that gets simpler and simpler, from which connections, depth and outliers -- in other words, stories like mine -- are gradually deleted in the popular mind. In Xanadu, the system that Nelson has spent his life trying to create, nothing ever gets deleted. In the absence of that system, this is his attempt to avoid deletion himself.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Akio Kobayashi

    We have been familier with the existing internet and WWW, so it is very difficlt to imagine anothet type of the world organizing many creative works. But now we know many many homepages losing links and many many untrustful inoformations for the lack of the original information aka the source. Ted Nelson's autobiography and the rethinking of Xanadou project desreve to be interested in now in 2020.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul Holbrook

    If you've followed Ted Nelson at all, this is a fascinating book. Nelson is best known as the inventor of hypertext, and as he points out in his book, the Back button. If you don't know about Ted Nelson, I'm not sure how someone would respond to this autobiography, which is just like it's author - at times brilliant, pithy, insightful, and at other times rambling, repetitive, and unfocused. Nelson insists that though others may claim inspiration from his work, that none the less they've all got i If you've followed Ted Nelson at all, this is a fascinating book. Nelson is best known as the inventor of hypertext, and as he points out in his book, the Back button. If you don't know about Ted Nelson, I'm not sure how someone would respond to this autobiography, which is just like it's author - at times brilliant, pithy, insightful, and at other times rambling, repetitive, and unfocused. Nelson insists that though others may claim inspiration from his work, that none the less they've all got it wrong. At 75, he's still tilting at windmills, trying to get his lifelong Xanadu project properly implemented. One reason Nelson wrote this book is to repudiate a 1995 Wired story about the Xanadu project and Nelson's work. Despite Nelson's claims that it was a hatchet job, Gary Wolf's Wired piece is still the best independent piece about Nelson and his work, and should be read along with this book - if only to see what Nelson finds objectionable. From the outside, I can't quite understand why Nelson was so incensed about the Wolf piece - some of the details were wrong, but I don't think Wolf's portrait of Nelson is so off base. But my reaction illustrates one of Nelson's points - that the details *do* matter. The details are critical. The difference between Nelson's ideas about hypertext as laid out in Xanadu and the world wide web we have now are important, he says, and what we have today is a pale shadow of what we could have. I'd like to see Nelson's vision take hold. I don't think it would ever replace the web, but I think there is a place for it in critical study and research. But I don't think it will. Nelson expresses admiration for Steve Jobs, but Steve was able to get people to follow his vision. Nelson hasn't been able to get people to follow him in the same way. I wish it were otherwise.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kurt Geisel

    While I'm glad I read it, I can heartily recommend Geeks Bearing Gifts as the better book. If you are familiar with the Xanadu vision, this autobiographical work won't add much to what has been written elsewhere. As an autobiography, it feels a bit selective. If it is selective, it does not feel dishonest. Nelson is forthright with his character flaws and it doesn't hide the pain he still experiences acutely in being misunderstood. Personally, I feel a bit embarrassed that he obsesses so much wit While I'm glad I read it, I can heartily recommend Geeks Bearing Gifts as the better book. If you are familiar with the Xanadu vision, this autobiographical work won't add much to what has been written elsewhere. As an autobiography, it feels a bit selective. If it is selective, it does not feel dishonest. Nelson is forthright with his character flaws and it doesn't hide the pain he still experiences acutely in being misunderstood. Personally, I feel a bit embarrassed that he obsesses so much with the infamous Wired article and trying to set some record straight. Why lend Wired any credibility by giving it that kind of attention? While Nelson also makes the case that we don't have to accept the world made by arbitrary decisions from the past, Geeks Bearing Gifts does this more tightly and persuasively.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Laemeur

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    Keegan Poppen

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    Ben Schaffer

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    Zexin Q

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    Andrew Thappa

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    Gareth Williams

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  13. 4 out of 5

    Joel Lewis

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    John Ohno

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    Peter Morville

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    Shuo Yang

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    Kevin

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    Guy Reisner

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    Greg Perkins

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    Tess

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