The following paragraphs are quoted verbatim from the back cover:
Combining technological, social, and historical perspectives, Bootstrapping
traces the genesis of personal computing through a close study of the pathbreaking
work of one researcher, Douglas Engelbart. In his lab at the Stanford Research Institute
in the 1960s, Engelbart, along with a small team of researchers, developed
some of the cornerstones of personal computing as we know it – including the mouse,
the windowed user interface, and hypertext. Since that time, all these technologies have
become so commonplace as to be taken for granted, but the assumptions and motivations
behind their invention are not. Thierry Bardini analyzes Engelbart’s singular
achievement through a detailed history of his vision for a human-computer interface in the
context of the U.S. computer research community during the 1960s and 1970s.
Engelbart felt that the complexity of many of the world’s problems was becoming
overwhelming, and the time for solving them increasingly short. What was needed, he
determined, was a system to augment human intelligence, co-transforming or co-evolving
both humans and the machines they use. He sought a systematic way to think and organize
this coevolution in an effort to discover a path on which radical technological improvement
could lead to radical improvements in people’s capacities to work effectively.
Engelbart’s project involved not just the invention of a computerized system
that would enable humans, acting together, to manage complexity, but the invention of a new
kind of human, “the user.” Ultimately he envisioned a “bootstrapping”
process by which those who actually invented the hardware and software of this new
system would simultaneously reinvent the human in a new form.
The book offers a careful narrative of the growth and decline of Engelbart’s laboratory
at SRI, and it examines the subsequent translation of Engelbart’s vision. It shows
that Engelbart’s ultimate goal of coevolution came to be translated in the less
challenging terms of technological progress and human adaptation to supposedly user-friendly
At a time when the massive diffusion of the World Wide Web has spawned myriad pronouncements
on our social and technological future, Bootstrapping recalls the early experiments
and original ideals that led to today’s “information revolution.”
Thierry Bardini is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the
Université de Montréal.