A major step in the story of our evolution was when we gained the ability to point out to each other what we could see. A further major step was when we gained the ability to point out what could not be seen and to interact with what could not be touched, through language and symbols.
As we stepped into the digital age our ability to point and interact rapidly increased by letting us point to documents for near-instant access from anywhere on the globe. We could interact with images to produce photograph-realistic portrayals of impossible scenes fed by our fertile imaginations for passive movie entertainment or active computer-game first person shooter experiences.
The promise of vastly increasing our ability to interact with what had through millennia given us mental powers to see further and understand deeper–our symbols in the form of text–received very little augmentation beyond spell check, copy and paste and the ability to link to documents.
Though digital text can be produced and transmitted at great speed, digital text is in most ways flat–disconnected with the contexts which created it and un-graspable by the receiver to manipulate it.
If we do not vastly improve our capacity to point to and interact with our digital information, we will decrease our reach and narrow our opportunities in ways which will continue to have drastic impacts on how we deal with our information, our world–and each other.
In 2024 we are only half-way through our sun’s lifecycle, living on a planet roughly a third as old as the universe itself, having developed into humans only 100-200,000 years ago as part of a direct lineage going back over 4 billion years.
This is an amazing time.
Humans are not a sedentary species, we are the only species to explore even when we have resources to survive, owing perhaps to changes in our environment 135,000 years ago.
We are now entering a digital habitat, much like when we first stepped out of the oceans partly as amphibians who needed access to water and then later as dry-natives who only dipped in for food or fun. We are now stepping into what I like to call another liquid environment–an environment where the potential for rich and smooth interactions are immense. But instead of thawing the information previously stored on paper substrate, we have only broken it into chunks with the most tenuous connections, ice-cubes in a glass of water if I may be poetic about it.
We are clearly not at the pinnacle of what being human is, nor have we developed our last bit of technology.
However, it is very hard to see ourselves as part of a continuity which will hopefully stretch even further into the future.
Most of the attention for how we can improve our communication and interactions center on technologies which mimic immediateness with our experiences, such as the amazing VR ability to look like you are somewhere where you are not, and layers on top of the world through AR.
Not much attention goes to the medium which took us out of what is visually present and allowed us to record and communicate ideas and thoughts beyond objects: Text.
We need to become better at being humans. Learning to use symbols and knowledge in new ways, across groups, across cultures, is a powerful, valuable, and very human goal. And it is also one that is obtainable, if we only begin to open our minds to full, complete use of computers to augment our most human of capabilities.
Douglas C. Engelbart
Text in XR
We are now taking the next leap with text, into Extended Reality environments where we can hopefully unleash the full power of human imagination to dream about how rich working with knowledge can be and how expressive we can communicate.
You, dear Student, you are the future. What do you want this new world to be?