“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” (Buckminster Fuller)

Markoff included this quote in his biography of Stewart Brand. Buckminster Fuller was one of Brand’s intellectual heroes and an inspiration for Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog.

The quote reminded me of Bret Victor’s talks on “Media for Thinking the Unthinkable” and “The Humane Representation of Thought”. Victor argues that “human beings naturally have many powerful modes of thinking and understanding” but “most are incompatible with static media” such as paper and the various human-computer interfaces that were derived from older, paper-based systems.

After decades of using computers I’ve internalized many of the limitations of their conventional interfaces. I still feel frustrated by those limitations, but the internalization makes it much harder to think in any other terms. Why are we still using files and folders to organize data? Why do web-based library catalogues continue to ape card catalogues? Why is programming computers still so pedantic?