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Alternate Computer Science History

I'm basically putting a giant sign on me by even saying this in public, but for a while now I've been sketching notes on the side for a series of writing I call Alternate Computer Science History. The idea is to envision alternate histories for how we may have developed computers over the years, both in how those differences would have played out in the past and the impact it would have on what we've built on top of all these things since then.

What makes this so fascinating? Legacy. Computers are so steeped in legacy to such a remarkable degree, but they're still so young. What kind of boxes are we putting ourselves in? So I find it fun to explore what could have been different. What we have today, built on so many layers built up over the decades, is really nothing short of accidental. We could have ended up with a lot of other paths these developments could have taken over the years... couldn't we have?

So maybe I'll just keep these private, or maybe I'll publish some of it if I ever polish any bits of it in an interesting format. Have any thoughts? Do you think this sounds fun? Let me know.


datagrok said…
You might be interested in getting hold of Ted Nelson's "Literary Computers" to read the source for the fever dream of Project Xanadu. I found a copy at a local university library.

It's interesting to look back at his 1993 pre-Internet vision of a hypertext future, but some parts are stupendously bad.

He managed to predict the Internet cafe, ("Silverstands,") but in his vision they were a single licensed chain of franchised gatekeepers to the Xanadu network. He advocated for DRM schemes that triggered an independent royalty micro-payment from every viewer for every piece of quoted text in a document. Scary stuff.

His "Silverstands" article includes a specification for the "perky" silver uniforms that the staff must wear, complete with a "changing variety of tasteful accessories." Which I suppose predicted "flair" six years before "Office Space."

It is itself a piece of alternate computer science history that I'm quite relieved never came to fruition, despite its few good ideas.

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