Friday, February 01, 2019

Larger than a note: an augmented attempt

I have been invited by Gardner Campbell to join him in an annotating project which will bring together students, scholars and scientists to look deeper into Doug Engelbart's research report Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (1962). I am humbled and honoured to join them. I am also curious and excited about this open-ended learning experience.

As I try to learn more about the project, I thought it would be a good start to drop some notes here about my questions, fledgeling thoughts and links as I embark in a new inspiring online journey. Mind you, I am not planning to be organised. I just attempt to gather enough stepping stones to cross a river into an unknown text for me. In my years as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language and a Translator trainee, I had not heard of Doug Engelbart.

So the questions come along: Who is he? Why is he so important? Why does it matter to go back to a text written in 1962? How does his research relate to languages? How can I relate to this study field and work?

According to Wikipedia, Douglas Engelbart (1925-2013) was an internet pioneer who studied in the field of human computer interaction (HCI). He engineered his way to invent the computer mouse and hypertext. In 1968,  while working for the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), he made a demonstration of visionary impact, which came to be known as The Mother of All Demos.

At this point of hyperlinked, fragmentary reading, I get the feeling Doug was probably a born-teacher.

Prior to exploring links, the first thing I did before accepting the invitation was to plunge directly into Doug's original 1962 text. I had to go down several paragraphs before I sensed the text had something old in it. It was the mention of a typewriter that had a sudden time travelling effect. For the most part, you would not guess it was written over half a century ago.

My first impression was that it is kind of difficult to read. Or perhaps it is the way Doug tries to address an audience and guide them into his matrix. I do not think there were EFL teachers there. They were probably busy getting organised as TESOL in 1966.

I learn from Gardner's conversation with Christina, Doug's daughter, that his father wrote in isolation:

"It’s never easy to sum up a decade’s worth of thought, especially when that thought has seemed dangerous to utter."

Reading on, Gardner reflects on the nature of the text's difficulty:

"But now it’s time for a confession. When folks ask me if I, too, find the essay difficult, I usually mumble some kind of assent out of fellow feeling. Yes, I do find it a challenging piece of writing—but no more so than Milton, or Shakespeare, or Woolf, or Faulkner, or Joyce. In fact, in its complexity and playfulness, “Augmenting Human Intellect” resonates with me very strongly as a work of art, even a work of philosophy. I can’t claim to have gotten to the bottom of it. Perhaps I never will. Art is like that."

Beautifully expressed. It rules out any giving up on reading on.

I know Gardner expects my educator's insights in my annotating contributions. Yet, at this first stage to approach Doug Engelbart's voice, I rely solely on my translation instrumental reading skills. I remember my Scientific Translation teacher now. Many times you must translate a couple of paragraphs from a field you know nothing about and must achieve understanding and accurate expression in another language in a limited time. You needn't be a medical doctor to translate one, but you must interpret and speak at the same level. We complained about difficulty, of course. How could we decipher the original written by an expert not even writing in his mother tongue? She always answered:

"It is just text."

You grab that flag and march on.

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