Everything Old Is New Again in Tech

Rob Hof

Sure wish I had been able to make this event last week in Silicon Valley, an introduction of John Markoff's new book on the PC industry, that apparently turned into a tribute to Doug Engelbart. He's the legendary inventor of the mouse and other seminal technologies, but since his groundbreaking Mother of All Demos in late 1968, he hasn't gotten much attention. I've always wondered why.

After visiting him a few years ago in his office at Logitech, I came away dazzled at the work he's still doing, especially in trying to augment our intelligence with new interface designs and ways of using information. Yet I also found much of it over my head, and I still go back to my notes to try to glean something new.

Anyway, it was striking that in a talk with SiliconValleyWatcher's Tom Foremski, Engelbart noted that today's au courant blogs and wikis looked a lot like what he and his team had been doing way back in 1965. That's 40 years ago!

So why isn't the Valley paying much mind to Engelbart now? When I asked a friend of his several years ago, he confided in me that it was a curse to think 50 years ahead of your time. Or as Socialtext's Ross Mayfield notes, the Valley is really better at creating technologies that sustain the current ways of doing things, rather than disrupt them. The Valley, of course, has had more than its share of disruptive technologies, but Ross' observation is a reminder that even at technology's ground zero, going for disruption takes a lot of guts.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.