The Six Nelson Paradigms for Interactive Software or Pac-Man, the Prototype For Office Systems

Ted Nelson, Autodesk, Inc.

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University March 6, 1991


THE SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT: AI/Media Lab, PARC, Nelson (mostly unheard). HOW WRONG IT'S GONE! Fascist PC versus MacBotch; the crime of Wizzywig, the folly of "metaphors," the delusion of "functionality," the evil of "files," the horror of "applications" (fanning out fractally). MY SIX ORTHOGONAL PARADIGMS, variously intercombining: CINEMA: Interactive software is a movie and more: screen presentation to mind and heart of viewe, plus interaction. Global optimization, a definition of Art: all parts unite and co-impact, the task cannot be decomposed into delegable parts, must be centralized in the mind and heart of the Director. A wide variety of effects are on the palette, with various costs as production values (or, in software, performance values). VIRTUALITY, the seeming of something: its conceptual structure and feel. VIRTUALITY VS. METAPHOR: unified, designed generality versus complexity built up from scraps. GOOD SOFTWARE DESIGN IS DESIGN OF ABSTRACT CONCEPTUAL SPACES, which must be designed as wholes under a unifying artistic commander, as in film. Unified conceptual structure is vital; thus the structangular design of abstract virtuality is the fundamental process of software design. The feel (in film, atmosphere and mise-en-scene) must be designed and perfected by the Director's many different adjustments throughout. THEMATICS, a new threaded metalogic of structure, definition and inner meaning, defined in terms of principles, instances and ramifications. (Part of Nelson's General Schematics.) Unity and organization may be defined as thematic metapredicates. Thematic evolution of Pac-Man; how its brilliant achievements foreshadow true office software. The search for cross-cutting organizational threads Clever collapsing of function and controls (as in JOT(tm) text editor and PAC-MAN) versus disastrous collapsing (Mac garbage can). FANTICS, the art and science of presentation (subsuming cinema, writing, diagrammatics and much more). VISUALIZATION or mentalization: anything can be visualized, using enough tricks. Many views and flipping them fast. Multidimensionality; paradoxical and punned spaces. The Word-Picture continuum, the Word-Picture-Interaction Continuum. Mapping of Contents/Subject Field to Presentational Space to Controls. SEEING CONNECTIONS (Our windowing conventions, such as Xwindows, are screwed up, since they do not allow lines to be drawn from contents of one window into the contents of another. These conventions will have to be replaced.) CONVENTIONS IN ALL MEDIA: physical, visual, acoustic units, overlays, contexts, markers, transitions, groupings, identifiers, paragraphs, layouts, montages, jingles. SOCIAL CONTEXT OF USAGE, eg classroom, TV viewing, radio at work. ORGANIZATIONAL CONTEXTS, esp. time-slot and season schedule. LITERATURE: the Final Conglomeration. The document and "literature" defined and generalized into the screen and repository future. TOWARD A UNIFIED LANDSCAPE OF DATA. The Xanadu(tm) model of true representation, interconnection, versioning, repository publishing, and copyright simplification. ACCESS STRUCTURE MAPPING, discrete and weighted. Maps of what you can get to from where are crucial to all designs (including architecture, clothing, office systems and interactive software). Till now we have not explicitly designed such structures, resulting in such interconnective horrors as Lotus menus and the New York subway system.


Generalist, futurist, visionary, designer, showman, computer folk hero, rogue intellectual, magician of the mind and living legend Ted Nelson is best known for his book _Computer_Lib_ and for coining the words "hypertext" and "hypermedia" in the early sixties. He is the founding designer of the Xanadu project, soon to result in a product from Autodesk, and intended to become the world publishing repository of the future. He presently holds the titles of Distinguished Fellow at Autodesk, Inc., and Visiting Professor at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland. He has degrees in philosophy and sociology from Swarthmore and Harvard. His next books will be entitled _Biostrategy_and_Polymind:_A_New_Theory_ of_Human_Life_ and _The_Human_Sexual_System_. He has been a film-maker, dolphin researcher and folk singer. He is active in the program of the Human Awareness Institute, a California love cult.


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