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"We wanted the Dynabook to be like the HP calculator except to be a real live computer. This was the inspiration for all that we were thinking about"
The prototype of the Dynabook

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Click to play videoAbout the Dynabook computer


Dynabook <1968>

Another thing that we saw in 1968 was a tiny 1" square first flat panel display down at the University of Illinois. We realized it was going to be a matter of years until you could put all the electronics found in the Flex Machine on the back of a flat panel display, which I later came to call the Dynabook. Back in 1968 when I made this cardboard model I thought of it as the machine of the future and started thinking about what would it be like for millions of people to have one of these machines. As we got deeper into the design, we realized that we wanted to dynamically simulate and extend.

And so the metaphor became the pencil. What would it be like to have something like this as extent in the world as pencil and paper. Could people actually use it? And the answer in 1968 and the early 1970s was no. So one of the ways I started thinking about answering the question, since we failed at designing for adults. And I remembered a wonderful phrase of Marshall McLuhan. He said, I don't know who discovered water, but it wasn't a fish. The idea is if you are immersed in a context you can't even see it. So we decided to follow Seymour Papert's lead and instead of trying to design for adults we would try and see what this Dynabook of the future would be like for children and then maybe hope some of it would spill over into the adult world. So children were an absolutely critical factor here.

From a memo I wrote to Xerox in 1971: Though the Dynabook will have considerable local storage and will do most computing locally, it will spend a large percentage of its time hooked to various large, global information utilities which will permit communication with others of ideas, data, working models, as well as the daily chit-chat that organizations need in order to function. The communications link will be by private and public wires and by packet radio. Dynabooks will also be used as servers in the information utilities. They will have enough power to be entirely shaped by software.