come about. But the question of exactly what these forms of writing would be was- and indeed remains today- an ongoing question that only grows.
(I didn’t know what to call these ideas; “hypertext” came to me in 1962, and I published it in 1965 (23). I first heard strangers use it around 1986.)
My Hypertext Agenda
Within weeks, I had a personal agenda that was vastly ambitious and totally obvious, based on everything I had thought about before in my life-
GENERALISM AND ACCESS
This was the way to help make the world safe for generalists, and make everyone more of a generalist-
- Increase knowledge and access
- Make clear the interconnectedness of everything
- Make all ideas clearer and more accessible
- Progressively make all the written works of mankind available.
- Obviously no one can read or know everything, but it can all be made much more accessible.
- New kinds of quotations and reviews would provide better access to the contents of all documents. Every quotation could open to its original context! Every quotation would be a kind of punch-through gateway to the original. And anyone could create such digests, quoting parts of any documents, because we’d be able to handle the copyright problem (Appendix G).
- We would harden the archive, in digital form, against such future dangers as nuclear war; possibly storing it in orbit or further out in deep space.
Why Hypertext and Why Me
In the fall of 1960 I had a vast, unified vision of a hypertext future. Hypertext hit me as an idea simple and explosive, with ramifications in every direction, and it led me to a revolutionary intellectual agenda.
In its sweep and emotional power this vision resembled the rowboat experience of 1943 and the Schematics paper of 1958. It was similarly huge in scope, similarly sweeping in apparent unity, and similarly impossible to express. I told this vision to a few people, but most could not understand what I was talking about. Call it brashness, call it extreme egotism, but I have always been willing and determined to proceed with my own designs based on my own understandings, which have always been very different from those of other people.
The 1960 Epiphany
In 1960, in my second year of graduate school (studying sociology), I had a chance to take a course called “Computers for the Social Sciences. ” It was a good course, which I found thrilling, and as soon as I found out what computers really were- All-Purpose Machines, as von Neumann had called them (but the press did not catch onto that term), I desperately wanted one (although no individual in the world owned a computer at that time).
The explosive moment came when I saw that you could hook graphical displays to computers. At once- over a few weeks- I saw that this would be the future of humanity: working at screens, able to read and write and publish from ever expanding new electronic repositories.
=== Fall 1959 (I was 22)
Empty Niches (U. of Chicago)
The less said about my year at the University of Chicago the better.
The campus had a lot of empty statue niches, I don’t know why. It was stupid, cold and squalid; the university had a few hundred women and thousands of men; and I constantly felt my father’s curse like a sunlamp close to the back of my neck. I thought of suicide all the time, but I knew what that would do to my grandparents, and so I kept on. To purge Ralph from my life I seriously considered going back to the name I had lived under for ten years of my childhood, Theodor Holm II but I knew it was too late; in college I had irrevocably become (i.e., became known as) Ted Nelson, and I figure that was who I had to stay.
I had gone to Chicago in sociology because I didn’t want to be too far from my grandparents, and I thought U.Chi was the closest to the romantic anthropology I had enjoyed. I was thinking of William Foote Whyte’s work there, decades before. But changed, getting somewhat strange and stupid. Most of the graduate students in the department wanted t be social workers; I was interested in deep theory, and heard none. In fact, the sociologists of that department kept denouncing theory of any kind.
I had to leave that place. But after such an awful start in graduate school I had to get at least some advanced degree, so I applied elsewhere. I took a test called the Miller Analogies, and, amazingly, that got me a fellowship to Harvard for the following year.
Representation Systems, or KRS- became popular.)
My course in structural linguistics was an exciting revelation: how the real structure of language was rediscovered in the nineteen-twenties (having been known by scholars in India long ago). I began to wonder intently how this particular kind of abstraction could be extended to the discovery of similarities in other areas. (The chief exponent of this model, and one of the discoverers of the structure of language, was Leonard Bloomfield, who also spoke of infinities of models.)
These ideas crystallized in a seminar I took my third year in college with Michael Scriven, a remarkably brilliant and forthright philosophy professor. He provided more information faster, and more swiftly-flowing arguments, than I had ever heard before, and gave me a great sense of inspiration for the project.
The 1958 Schematics paper was thus written as my term paper for Michael Scriven’s course in Social Philosophy. I meant it to be the foundation of a new field ofabstraction and representation.
The experience of writing it was one of the most intense I have ever experienced, in an exalted state of excitement and inspiration.
The same epiphany I had experienced at the age of five, of the immensity and indescribability of the world, came to me again, but this time with regard to realizing how models and language and thought worked, a way of approaching the great complexity I had envisioned long before.
These ideas have never left me, and I have made many notes about them over the
These ideas have never left me, and I have made many notes about them over the years, notes whose interconnectedness defied all conventional organization.