Licklider and books

Once again I think this is something that I mentioned briefly in class but I feel like I have much more to say about it. In Man-Computer Symbiosis, Licklider describes the relationship between man and computer that he forsees. He believes that man and computers will work together because each can do things that the other cannot.

In section 5 Licklider talks about current problems that stand in the way of the ideal man-computer relationship. The one that I would like to discuss in particular is section 5.2, Memory Hardware Requirements. His second paragraph in particular is very interesting to me. He starts by saying that "the first thing we face is that we shall not store all the technical and scientific papers in computer memory" (page 78). Oh Licklider, how very wrong you were. It is fascinating how far we have come in the last half-century. Licklider did not even believe that we would have enough memory storage to store text files! Now i can store over 20,000 text documents into a flash drive the size of my forefinger. I wonder if Licklider ever believed that computers would have the capacity to run and store video files. Somehow I doubt it. Either way, his conviction that memory would be so limited is a perfect example of the astounding amount of progress we have made since 1960.

I think that Licklider also makes some very interesting statements about the future of books. He writes "books... will continue to be functionally important within the context of man-computer symbiosis" (page 78). I do not believe that this has held true. Since Licklider was so off in his prediction of memory space, his ideas of the future of books was also skewed. Books have played a heavily diminished role in technology recently, because so much information is quickly accessible online. What is noteworthy, though, is that Licklider foresaw a new relationship between books and computers. He wrote that "the computer will expedite the finding, delivering, and returning of books" (page 78), and this has definitely happened. Amazon, for instance, does all of these things by having a browsable database online, by shipping bought books to customers, and by allowing users to sell back used books. I think it is intriguing that one of his book predictions was so misguided while at the same time another was right-on.