Douglas Engelbart's Idea of Small Changes

I'm reminded of Douglas Engelbart's classic paper "Augmenting Human itellect,"2 on his belief in the power of computers. He wrote this in 1962, way before the PC, and argued that it's better to improve and facilitate the tiny things we do every day than it is to attempt to replace entire human jobs with monolithic machines. A novel-writing machine, if one were invented, just automates the process of writing novels, and it's limited to novels. But making a small improvement to a pencil, for example, has a broad impact: any task that involves pencils is improved, whether it's writing novels, newspapers, or sticky notes. The broad improvement brought about by this hypothetical better pencil is in our basic capabilities, not just in writing novels. Engelbart's efforts were true to this: the computer mouse (his invention) heightened our capability to work with computers in a small, but pervasive, fashion.


Make a change to novel-writing and you've affected a small, specific domain, but improve the pencil, and you've impacted a wide range of domains.

Folksonomies: invention change

/art and entertainment/books and literature (0.423317)
/technology and computing (0.372649)
/art and entertainment/books and literature/romance novels (0.176502)

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Douglas Engelbart:Person (0.904236 (positive:0.387710))

Personal computer (0.948481): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Improve (0.799256): dbpedia
Better (0.762456): dbpedia
Writing (0.758707): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Pencil (0.660932): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Machine (0.577474): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Pen (0.556481): dbpedia | freebase
Invention (0.530326): dbpedia | freebase

 Mind Performance Hacks
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Hale-Evans, Ron (2006-02-06), Mind Performance Hacks, O'Reilly Media, Inc., Retrieved on 2013-12-29
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: self-help