Thursday, July 04, 2013

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In Praise of the Mouse Invented by Doug Engelbart, Who Once Visited Second Life (Albeit with a Trackpad)

Doug Engelbart in Second Life

Doug Engelbart, who was the inventor of the PC mouse among many other innovations and insights, passed away recently at a ripe old age. I got to briefly meet him in person, but oddly enough, never met his Second Life avatar: That's right, back in 2006, Engelbart visited Second Life and gave a mixed reality lecture on the future of technology to a group of futurists in the Bay Area and in the metaverse beyond. I didn't get to attend that event, but did get to meet him with a small group of others, thanks to the Future Salon group and Jerry Paffendorf, who helped put it all together. Doug was elderly but totally engaged and twinkling, and whispered some inspiring words to us in a gravelly voice. As I recall, he was impressed by Second Life as the latest technical innovation of the time. But ironically, if you look at the above photo, he seems to be interacting in Second Life with a trackpad, not a mouse.

For my part, I want to say this in tribute to Engelbart's mouse:

While I'm excited by the Oculus Rift and touchscreens and the many other ways we now have for physically interacting with data, still nothing even comes close to the precise, intuitive power of the mouse. I can't conceive of ever not using a mouse, because I feel ineffective and cognitively mired without one. Without a mouse, the delay between what I want to do with data and when I can actually interact with the data becomes too slow, too cumbersome, too abstracted. If I didn't have a mouse right now, I wouldn't be writing this post, because I'd be too busy scrounging around for a replacement mouse.

Anyway, this long holiday weekend, you could do worse than to read about his life and accomplishments here.

Image credits: Photo from Niall Kennedy's Flickr stream; screenshot from SL Future Salon.

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Ken March

May his soul rest in peace. Thank you Douglas Engelbarts for such a wonderful invention.

Iggy

Sorry to hear we lost this genius. Engelbart was a man whose vision raced far ahead of the technology of his day.

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