Alan Kay on learning and technology

Alan Kay is talking once again about what went wrong with the personal computer and personal computing. Here’s a pointer to a recent interview he did with CIO Insight magazine that is well worth your attention.

A CIO Insight

Alan Kay was recently interviewed for CIO Insight magazine’s Expert Voices feature. In this piece entitled Alan Kay: The PC Must Be Revamped–Now, Alan discusses the mindsets that stand in the way of real innovation – and what his not-for-profit VPRI is doing to address the issue. In the article, Alan defines Croquet as one of those efforts and as “a new way of doing an operating system, or as a layer over TCP/IP that automatically coordinates dynamic objects over the entire Internet in real time. This coordination is done efficiently enough so that people with just their computers, and no other central server, can work in the same virtual shared space in real time.”
[Julian Lombardi’s Croquet Blog]

Alan is up to his old tricks of trying to invent the future instead of predicting it. His focus remains on viewing the personal computer as a learning tool more than a productivity tool, which means, among other things, that you should be prepared to invest time and effort in that learning. He is not fond of efforts that sacrifice the real potential of tools by focusing on making the first five minutes easy and entertaining at the expense of crippling the long-term capabilities of the tools.

Alan remains a disciple of Doug Engelbart:

 Engelbart, right from his very first proposal to ARPA [Advanced Research Projects Agency], said that when adults accomplish something that’s important, they almost always do it through some sort of group activity. If computing was going to amount to anything, it should be an amplifier of the collective intelligence of groups. But Engelbart pointed out that most organizations don’t really know what they know, and are poor at transmitting new ideas and new plans in a way that’s understandable. Organizations are mostly organized around their current goals. Some organizations have a part that tries to improve the process for attaining current goals. But very few organizations improve the process of figuring out what the goals should be. [Alan Kay: The PC Must be Revamped Now]

There is a potentially deep and rich connection between challenging knowledge work and technology. But realizing that potential will require different attitudes about how much time and effort we should be prepared to invest in learning. Organizations thinking about investing the technologies collectively identified as Enterprise 2.0 should also be thinking about what investments they should be making in the appropriate individual and organizational learning

2 thoughts on “Alan Kay on learning and technology”

  1. I think your last para is critical.

    As a generality, Knowledge workers in large organizations will have learned what using a keyborad and screens mean with email, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, the org’s intranet, and the org’s one or few large integrated systems, where they will have been trained on whoch sections of which reports to complete.

    Many or most knowledge workers will not (unless they are curious or like to play with techy stuff) not have gone any further with any software … with the probable exception of younger workers who will be coming into an organization familiar with MySpace or Facebook, and commenting, sending text messages, tags, mashups, etc.

    When we place the above against a backdrop in which it is clear that personal and social processes are deeply involved with knowledge sharing, knowledge construction, knowledge application, innovation … and that personal content management and KM are driven by horizontal and socially-facilitated dynamics . .. the points you state in your last paragraph swim into a clear focus.

  2. Thanks for the pointer. I’m a fan of Kay’s, and got to see him talk at a very small event when he worked for Apple’s (now defunct) Advanced Technology Group. (I was a research assistant funded by them for Intelligent Tutoring work.) This was when the Palm first came out, and he railed against Graffitti (IIRC). He also talked about how their lab at PARC had done so much, but so little had changed since then. I agree – the WIMP interface still reigns!

Comments are closed.