Posted by: pilgrimtraveler | October 13, 2010

Personal Dynamic Media, the Notebook, and Alan Kay

I really enjoyed this reading from the New Media Reader.  “…Kay thought computers could be used even by children, and could be used creatively.”   The idea that small portable computers would become general-purpose tools for everyone was very forward thinking in the mid-1970’s.  Even the idea of personal desktop computers was an advanced concept–let alone making those computers portable.  All of his ideas seem centered around using computers creatively with user designed software.

I was taken with the concept of children creatively using computers for play.  The Dynabook concept of the dynamic manipulation of information in creating it and editing it via drawing, painting, animation, and music and that these things could be done by children.  The creation of the Smalltalk programming language made it possible for anyone to create tools that would allow them to do more creative things.  This encouraged a process where users (of any age) could build on their previous work and improve tools for greater creativity and higher levels of usefulness.

I got intrigued by Smalltalk and began doing some research and found this history written by Alan Kay.  I discovered that there are very active Smalltalk user and development groups still working internationaly on this language and that it was included in the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) computers. It is open source and available in several places including Squeak, here, and the link above.  Smalltalk is where the GUI (graphical user interface) was first developed.

Alan Kay is still working creatively and challenging us all.  He demonstrates some Smalltalk in this 2007 TED presentation.  I think I’ve become an Alan Kay fan which is not a bad thing.


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