As a graduate student in philosophy in the late1950s
and early 1960s, Ted Nelson had two critical intellectual encounters
that led him to become one of the most influential figures in
computing. One was with Vannevar Bush's
article As We May Think, which convinced him that emerging
information technologies could extend the power of human memory.
The second was with Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Xanadu,
"a magic place of literary memory," in Nelson's words, that
provided him with the image of a vast storehouse of memories,
and which served as the inspiration for his life's work. From
these influences, Nelson began his quest to build creative tools
that would transform the way we read and write, and in 1963
he coined the words "hypertext" and "hypermedia" to describe
the new paradigms that these tools would make possible.
Nelson was particularly concerned with
the complex nature of the creative impulse, and he saw the computer
as the tool that would make explicit the interdependence of
ideas, drawing out connections between literature, art, music
and science, since, as he put it, everything is "deeply intertwingled."
Nelson's critical breakthrough was to call
for a system of non-sequential writing that would allow the
reader to aggregate meaning in snippets, in the order of his
or her choosing, rather than according to a pre-established
structure fixed by the author.