Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

What if Buckminster Fuller were still alive and looking for funding? I'm still in shock at Silicon Valley's blindness regarding Doug Engelbart

Posted by Tom Foremski - June 15, 2005

Over the past few days readers may have noticed that I've been writing (ranting too) a lot about Doug Engelbart, popularly known as the inventor of the computer mouse, but also the source of many fundamental computational models and applications that we take for granted today.

Some have likened him to a Buckminster Fuller. Tony Christopher from Digital Places tells me that one of the people on the board of Bootstrap.org, the Mr Engelbart-focused organization, once said "this is like having the chance to videotape/capture Leonardo DaVinci."

At a fantastic event organized by the SDForum last Wednesday, John Markoff, the New York Times journalist and book author, paid tribute to Mr Engelbart. And many others joined in, revealing a person and a body of work that I had not realized belonged to Mr Engelbart.

I was very impressed at the stories people shared about how their lives were changed by their interactions with Mr Engelbart. Imagine my surprise when it turns out he is sitting right behind me!

He is 80 and looks great. He is sharp and eloquent. Imagine my surprise when I meet him later in the evening, and he tells me he has not been able to get any funding for the last 20 plus years, and cannot even engage people in a dialogue!

Shock and awe. What is going on here? Silicon Valley lauds this person and his work and his influence, and ignores him for more than 20 years? I cannot understand this attitude. Why isn't Doug sitting at Stanford university, guest lecturing from time to time? He changed people's lives, don't you think he still has that gift? Why isn't he at HP Labs running a project or two?

We have a national treasure in our own back yard and we ignore this intellectual giant? I'm still shocked at Silicon Valley's callous disregard, and stupidity. For such a place filled with geniuses it is a place that is ignorant of the simplest of social graces in respecting such iconic figures. If Doug were dead, no problem, tribute after tribute, all empty air. IMHO.

Not everyone is like this, Logitech is one company that has risen very highly in my regard. Logitech has provided Mr Engelbart with an office and a secretary for the past ten years, out of respect, and without any fanfare.

Kudos to Logitech, for respecting our elders and being aware of our history. You can advertise for free here anytime. And I will always buy your mice.

[More to come on Doug Engelbart... hear what happened when the Google boys, Sergey and Larry invited him to speak to 200 of their researchers at the end of last year.]

UPDATE: Ross Mayfield just published an excellent post on Doug Engelbart. This is how to use blogging to capture an enormous amount of information, and cover a subject as complex as that of its subject.

http://ross.typepad.com/blog/2005/06/doug_englebart_.html

Also:

Researchers pay tribute at SDForum event and an interview with Mr. Engelbart.

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