(formerly Bootstrap)

In 1962 Douglas Engelbart tied a brick to a pencil.

The experiment was part of a research proposal written for the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research. In his text Augmenting human intellect: A Conceptual Framework1 he argues that in light of increasing production, population and complexity, the solvers of tough, critical problems of the world could be helped by technological extensions; devices that 'augment man's intellect'.

He wrote:
"We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human 'feel for a situation' usefully coexist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids."

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency decided to fund the visionary project and in 1967 Doug Engelbart patented the world's first computer mouse.

Tying a Brick to a Pencil to "De-Augment" the Individual

This picture was published on the website of The Bootstrap Institute, an organisation founded by Doug and Christina Engelbart in 1996.

I associatively linked the surreal image -- a glamorously manicured hand operating a a pencil attached to a brick -- with productive awkwardness, alienation and awareness; reflexivity and Berthold Brecht.

But Engelbart read the experiment quite differently:
"Brains of power equal to ours could have evolved in an environment where the combination of artifact materials and muscle strengths were so scaled that the neatest scribing tool (equivalent to a pencil) possible had a shape and mass as manageable as a brick would be to us - assuming that our muscles were not specially conditioned to deal with it. ... How would our civilization have matured if this had been the only manual means for us to use in graphical manipulation of symbols?"

I also discover that The Bootstrap Institute has sadly but not surprisingly been renamed into The Douglas Engelbart Institute.2

  1. Augmenting human intellect: A Conceptual Framework. D. C. Engelbart for the Director of Information Air Force Office of Scientific Research, 1962 http://www.invisiblerevolution.net/engelbart/full_62_paper_augm_hum_int.html []
  2. http://www.dougengelbart.org/home/welcome-redirect.html []