The Paper Jam

Fifty years ago, the pioneers of personal computing — people like Ivan Sutherland, Alan Kay, Seymour Papert, and Doug Engelbart — were inventing a future where every adult and child in the world could use a laptop to augment their intellect.

Sutherland showed how people could animate digital images to think visually in realtime. Kay suggested everyday people could use computer simulations as a way to think and communicate. Papert invented a language that children could use to create computer graphics. Engelbart presented The Mother of All Demos.

But at some point, like a piece of paper caught in a fax machine, this dream of personal computing got jammed. Digitizing information was a more obvious opportunity than augmenting the way we think. And so we plucked that fruit instead.

Fifty years later, phones and tablets are the pinnacle of paper replacement. They’ll keep getting thinner and more powerful as they hyper-optimize all things physical.

But optimization is only one form of augmentation. The original dream was much bigger. In Kay’s own words:

One of the realizations we had about computers in the 60s was that they give rise to new and more powerful forms of arguments about many important issues via dynamic simulations. That is, instead of making the fairly dry claims that can be stated in prose and mathematical equations, the computer could carry out the implications of the claims to provide a better sense of whether the claims constituted a worthwhile model of reality. And, if the general literacy of the future could include the writing of these new kinds of claims and not just the consumption (reading) of them, then we would have something like the next 500 year invention after the printing press that could very likely change human thought for the better.

I believe the timing is right to pursue this bigger dream again. Our journey begins where The Paper Jam ends.


We’re working on a tool called Moat Boat if you’d like to follow our efforts in this direction. It’s a creative tool for thinking and communicating in virtual reality.

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