Linked List: February 2013

Tools Change Thought Patterns

Alan Kay on video games. Bold bits by Ed.

McLuhan’s claim that the printing press was the dominant force that transformed the hermeneutic Middle Ages into our scientific society should not be taken too lightly — especially because the main point is that the press didn’t do it just by making books more available, it did it by changing the thought patterns of those who learned to read.

Though much of what McLuhan wrote was obscure and arguable, the sum total to me was a shock that reverberates even now. The computer is a medium! I had always thought of it as a tool, perhaps a vehicle — a much weaker conception. What McLuhan was saying is that if the personal computer is a truly new medium then the very use of it would actually change the thought patterns of an entire civilization. He had certainly been right about the effects of the electronic stained-glass window that was television — a remedievalizing tribal influence at best. The intensely interactive and involving nature of the personal computer seemed an antiparticle that could annihilate the passive boredom invoked by television. But it also promised to surpass the book to bring about a new kind of renaissance by going beyond static representations to dynamic simulation. What kind of a thinker would you become if you grew up with an active simulator connected, not just to one point of view, but to all the points of view of the ages represented so they could be dynamically tried out and compared?

— Alan Kay, User Interface: A Personal View (1989) PDF