Primitive Man in the Electronic Work Environment

Anatol Holt, University of Milano

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University November 14, 1997


Primitive man is here to stay; he is nature (not civilization). As he breathes, so he coordinates and communicates. An analysis of these elementary human functions is essential to under- standing the services which computers and their networks can render.

Coordination has been widely viewed as a complex social phenomenon properly treated in a multi-disciplinary way, mainly by the social sciences. The phenomenon is certainly social and certainly complex; but it is hard to see how a multi-disciplinary approach can yield clear technical guidance to the utilization (and therefore architecture and interface) of computers. In this talk an alternative approach is considered; it is also demonstrated that this alternative does lead to genuine guidance and news.


Anatol Holt began as a UNIVAC I programmer under John W. Mauchly, in 1952. Together with the late William J. Turanski he developed a programming environment for the UNIVAC family called "Generalized Programming" - a very early example of CSCW. From 1963 to 1974, Holt was Principal Investigator under ARPA's IPTO sponsored research called the "Information Systems Theory Project". During this time Holt cooperated with CarlAdam Petri, (GMD, Bonn, Germany), in the development of Petri nets.

Since 1974 Holt has been active in various industrial and university settings. In 1979, together with Paul Cashman, Holt launched the world's first "coordination program" on the ARPA net (Monitor Software Trouble Reports). Some years later, Holt and venture capitalist Eli Jacobs, founded "Coordination Technology, Inc." for the development of a new system software platform to support distributed electronic work environments.

In the last 6 years, Holt has lived and worked in Milano, Italy, where (among other things) he has been active at the University of Milano. In 4 of these years, he authored a book titled Organized Activity and Its Support by Computer, recently produced by Kluwer Academic Publishers. Holt holds an Ms in mathematics from MIT, and a PhD in descriptive linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania.


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