Avoiding the Final Death

I talked to a friend yesterday about all the artifacts I collect and want to collect.

I have a growing collection of software from Living Videotext, a complete set of Mondo 2000 magazines, and I was debating whether or not I wanted to spend $500 on Origins of Cyberspace.

He asked, “Does having these things make you feel good?”

After thinking about this more, I’ve realized that it simultaneously makes me feel good but also incredibly sad. I mean, I guess that’s the definition of nostalgia.

I feel like everything is so ephemeral, especially regarding technology. Software from 20 years ago might not run anymore on modern computers. Douglas Engelbart spent his entire life pursuing a mission that was never fully realized. He had so many ideas that people dismissed because they didn’t understand or didn’t think it would be profitable.

I’m digging through old videos and documents to piece together what he was thinking, but it’s challenging. It would be better if he were still here, and I could ask him questions, show him my demos and ask for feedback.

It reminds me of the movie Coco where Miguel witnesses someone dying and fading away. When he asks what happened he’s told:

He’s been forgotten. When there’s no one left in the living world who remembers you, you disappear from this world. We call it the final death.

Final death is not only for people but for ideas. What dreams and visions died with Engelbart? We can try to learn from what he left behind, but it’s still a sample of what was in his head. What had he figured out but was unable to communicate to others?

That’s why I try to connect with as many super-smart visionary people as I can. I want to share their vision and help make it a reality.


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Written by Andrew Shell, a Senior Web Engineer/People Lead from Madison, WI.