Alan Kay, writing in Scientific American (pdf) in 1977:
Children who have not yet lost much of their sense of wonder and fun have helped us to find an ethic about computing: Do not automate the work you are engaged in, only the materials. If you like to draw, do not automate drawing; rather, program your personal computer to give you a new set of paints. If you like to play music, do not build a “player piano”; instead program yourself a new kind of instrument.
Computers are universal machines; they can be programmed to serve many different functions. I’m typing this on an iPad. It’s currently a writing device. With a swipe, it’ll become a photo album. Yet another swipe, and it’ll be a sketchbook. I could write, recall vacations, and design before the iPad; now, I can do these things better.
But a machine for writing isn’t the same thing as a machine that writes for you. A machine for viewing photos isn’t the same thing as a machine that travels in your stead. A machine for sketching isn’t the same thing as a machine that designs. I love doing these things and doing them more efficiently. But I have no desire to have them done for me. It’s a key distinction: Do not automate the work you are engaged in, only the materials.
Moreover, this dichotomy reveals a lack of imagination. Writing, viewing photos, and designing precede computers; they emerged in the world of atoms. Digital merely made them more convenient. But computers have untethered us from physical constraints. What creative affordances have we left unexplored in our rush for productivity?
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