Take some pulverized plant pulp, stir in
water, lift out a thin layer with a screen, press and dry, and we
have just made paper! A split reed and lampblack in water and tree
gum gives us pen and ink. With these we can write "The unexamined
life is not worth living", "To be or not to be, that is the question",
"E = mc2", make a beautiful drawing, compose a fugue, and send them
around the world without having to travel with them and long after
we have passed away. Perhaps even more wonderful: every child can
immediately start to express and augment their fresh new thoughts
with pen and paper.
This is a very powerful idea!
Every piece of writing invites comment
in writing, because with paper, "authoring is always on". We can
and do scribble our reactions and new thoughts in the margins of
our favorite books. Some of these eventually may get turned into
a book of their own, perhaps supporting the original author's point
of view, perhaps dissenting, or perhaps about a completely different
idea that got materialized on the spot.
Now, come up with an inexpensive and efficient
way to make type, make the ink sticky, and we can multiply these
ideas by the million through the printing press. Another very powerful
Tom Paine's "Common Sense" was a 40 page pamphet published anonymously
at the author's expense and freely open to being copied. By all
accounts, more than 500,000 copies were printed from January to
June 1776 for a total population in the colonies of 1.5 million.
His words put a shape to the conflict with the British, galvanized
enough uniformity of opinion to greet the Declaration of Independance
with acclaim and carry through the grand experiment of American
To get the same coverage for "Common Sense"
today would require a printing of perhaps 100 million copies. Our
population has outrun our most important medium for transmitting
important and complex ideas!
The computer and the Internet require manufacturing
technologies and infrastructures far beyond those needed for paper,
pens, ink, and the press. We would hope that they can give us back
enough more than paper and printing to be worth all the effort.
The dream of personal computing in the
1960s was the dream of making a computer authoring medium for all;
especially authoring of the unique "computer stuff", not to just
imitate and automate what we can do with paper. The Internet part
of this dream was to simultaneously be the press, the post, and
the libraries for this new media.
This dream is happening, but slowly, because
most computer users are "driving faster and faster into the future,
but steering only by looking in the rearview mirror", to use an
on the mark phrase of McLuhan. Most authoring done on personal computers
today is just automated paper document creation or automated letters
for an automated post office. Worse, the advent of WWW browsers
for the Internet disastrously turned users into simple consumers,
because the browsers do not permit any kind of balanced authoring
for Internet content. That this was allowed to happen is almost
beyond belief and has been a terrible setback.
Squeak's ancestry goes back to the ARPA
research community who created the Internet, and the Xerox Palo
Alto Research Center which created many of our pervasive technologies,
such as the personal computer, the windows and mouse user interface,
desktop publishing, the Ethernet, and the laser printer. The aim
was to make a technology that could be authored by all (including
children) in all the dimensions in which computers extend, and to
be able to communicate these creations with all.
Squeak is a project by some of the original
pioneers of personal computing and networking, joined by enthusiastic
more recent colleagues, to get wide spectrum authoring for all back
into the mainstream of computing. We hope you enjoy it!