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Although some of its concepts were realized in 1973 with the desktop Alto, the Dynabook has since accrued the dubious distinction of being the most famous computer that never got built.I’d headed to Kay’s home in part to ask the godfather of the mobile computer how the i Phone, and a world where 2 billion people own smartphones, compared to what he envisioned in the ’60s and ’70s.Offer cannot be combined with any other mail-in rebate offer. Why not bring your talents and skills to the Human Rights Campaign?But as a scientist-engineer, I would’ve bet a thousand dollars–and I would’ve won–that there was already an i Pad. AK: And some marketing decision got them to try for the i Phone first. We put some real effort at the end of the ’70s and the early ’80s to try and get schools—particularly when the Mac came out—to try to understand what these [computers] are, and to teach them as media, not just teaching them as a computer. AK: One of the things Neil Postman wrote in one of his earlier books was saying, “Look, there are a thousand forces trying to get hold of people’s minds, particularly children’s minds.” So, one of the major things that schools should be charged with, is to teach children to be media guerrillas—that’s what we call them.If people could understand what computing was about, the i Phone would not be a bad thing. It’s guerrilla warfare going on, because everything has been infiltrated. It’s going on right in your community, in your own house.They called me up and asked me for advice, and so I said, I can talk to Steve. When I first got to Apple, which was in ’84, the Mac was already out and contacted me and asked me what I thought of the Mac.I explained very carefully to him who these people were, and you shouldn’t fuck around with them, like he did with his normal employees. [Pixar] was the most honest billion he ever made, because he put a lot of his own personal money into nurturing those guys. I said, “Well, the Mac is the first personal computer good enough to be criticized.”So, after Steve [announced] the i Phone [in 2007], he brought it up to me and handed it to me.
In fact, mobile computers, he says, have turned out to be mind-numbing consumption devices—sophisticated televisions—rather than the wheels for the mind that Steve Jobs envisioned.
In 1977, Kay and his colleague Adele Goldberg published “Personal Dynamic Media,” the most robust description of its intended operation.“Imagine having your own self-contained knowledge manipulator,” they implored—note the language, and the emphasis on knowledge.
“Suppose it had enough power to outrace your senses of sight and hearing, enough capacity to store for later retrieval thousands of page-equivalents of reference materials, poems, letters, recipes, records, drawings, animations, musical scores, waveforms, dynamic simulations, and anything else you would like to remember and change.”The Dynabook, which looks like an i Pad with a hard keyboard, was one of the first mobile computer concepts ever put forward, and perhaps the most influential.
It took imagination like his to drive the computer into the public’s hands.
The finest distillation of that imagination was the Dynabook, one of the most enduring conceptual artifacts of Silicon Valley—a handheld computer that was powerful, dynamic, and easy enough to operate that children could use it, not only to learn, but to create media and write their own applications.
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