For somebody who hates to write and has spent a lifetime contriving ways to do it differently, Ted Nelson is a magnificent writer. As a neologist, only Buckminster Fuller comes close; Nelson gives us words like ‘fantics’, ‘intertwingled’, ‘wholiness’, ‘thinkertoys’. He is wilful and demanding, forever frustrated by the gap between expression and vision, as are all great artists. He is both the dream-seed and the antithesis of Silicon Valley hacker culture: a computer pioneer who, after a lifetime of enormously focused work, has produced an almost sacred amount of nothing. For someone who has been so famously characterized as a crank, a crackpot, a Svengali of vapourware, from his earliest writings he has never been wrong: the enemy is still ‘Central Processing’, held by a priesthood of inflexible computer people; we still live in media as fish in water; and we still deserve systems worthy of the complexity of human thought, systems which inhibit narcissism and enable the creation of a greater human corpus, indivisible, ‘intertwingled’ with the visible connections that form the nervous system of a larger cultural legacy. The technocapitalists made quick work of marginalizing such thought, of excising the visionary questions from the design of our global telecommunications infrastructure, and we are left with little to dream about that is not reactionary drivel.
Main Image: Ted Nelson T-Shirt, Courtesy: Claire Evans
First published in Issue 200