paperless office
This is Ted Nelson’s explicit answer to those who simulate paper on screens, copied from Dream Machines (1987, p.28). In the 1980’s Nelson was warning software developers that it won’t end up good if they don’t set users and screens “free from the dimensions and topology of paper”. As we know he was not heard and the last twenty something years we were mostly exploiting our screens to produce content that would look good on paper, or will look like paper on screen.

Nelson’s newest book Geeks Bearing Gifts (2008/2009) is devoted to uncovering the real history of What We Got. It provides an alternative computer history, a sarcastic time-line: from a prehistory rooted in ancient religions to modern computing starting in 1970 with UNIX. And sort of ending (or going in to the totally wrong paper direction) from 1974 on with the PARC User Interface.

In March 1974 the Xerox PARC Alto and its operating system was officially released. In the fall that year, Alto computers were connected to the Scanning Laser Output Terminal and started to print. “[…] it worked perfectly. In fact it worked so well that it quickly ended any fantasy about ‘the paperless office’.” writes M. Mitchell Waldrop in his book The Dream Machine. (2001, p.385, don’t mix it up with Dream Machines by Nelson)

Actually the paperdigm could be traced back to two years earlier, 1972, when Chuck Thacker outlined his preliminary design for the Alto. It included a display about the size and a shape of a standard US letter sheet of paper, which would produce black characters on a bright background.

In Geeks Bearing Gifts Nelson writes PUI where others would say PARC User Interface or GUI. This not very nice sounding abbreviation is repeated many many times, only in negative contexts, becoming a sort of swear-word: P not for Palo Alto Reasearch Center, but P for Paperdigm and damn Paper.

One Response to “Paperdigm”

  1. Car Metaphors » Blog Archive » The Last Nail in the Coffin of Car Analogies Says:

    […] are not cars, computer users are not drivers, the paperless office is not to be compared with the paperless toilet, and a computer interface is more complex than a door, with or without a […]

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