Whether it’s our unending infatuation for and appreciation of the groundbreaking 1982 sci-fi film-noir classic “Blade Runner,” the sprawling vinyl record collection of one of our managing partners Jeff Ferguson or our adherence to classic SEO principles that existed well before SEO was even known as SEO – yet alone “inbound marketing” – we don’t shy away form our Old School roots. Not at all.
No, Engelbart was no Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the fictional, God-like father of the humanoid “replicants” who carry the story and action in “Blade Runner.” But he was the all-too-real inventor of an incredibly crucial – and increasingly Old School – component in personal computing.
While America was celebrating its 237th birthday on July 4th, various media reports had already begun to circulate on the internet – an internet that Engelbart had helped pioneer – that Engelbart had passed away a few days earlier at age 88, with the cause of death reportedly kidney failure.
Even some of the most hardened Geeks among us may not have known much about Engelbart, but his story was, in its own way, rather fascinating. And he certainly got to die a more peaceful and natural death than Dr. Tyrell.
An engineer, inventor and computer scientist by trade, Engelbart was also a true computer and internet visionary and pioneer. The Oregon State graduate and U.S. Navy veteran of World War II actually conceived his initial design for the world’s first computer mouse all the way back in 1963 – a full 50 years ago now.
That bulky first-generation mouse consisted of two metal wheels encased in a wooden shell, and its design was patented by Engelbart’s employer at the time, research institute SRI International (then known as Stanford Research Institute). And in a way, Engelbert was a little bit like Dr. Tyrell, as his design for the mouse was merely a small part of a larger project aimed at augmenting the human intellect, SRI International’s Augmentation Research Center. Other experimental pointing-devices were developed, including head-mounted devices attached to the chin or nose, but the mouse ultimately won out via its speed, convenience and ease of use.
According to Wikipedia, there is a “false etymology” regarding “mouse” being an acronym for “Manually Operated Utility for Selecting Equipment.” The real reason for the name? Simple. Early models had a cord attached to the rear part of the device, making it resemble a common mouse, complete with tail.
SRI International received patent US3,541,541 for its mouse on November 17, 1970, and the patent was later licensed to Apple, Inc. (you’ve probably heard of THEM), where it went on to evolve into what we know today – really exploding in popularity and gaining traction when Apple began shipping a computer mouse with every one if its “Lisa” computers in 1983. Unfortunately for Engelbart, he didn’t actually collect a single dollar from the device’s eventually wild success.
Of course, money isn’t everything (again, it couldn’t save Dr. Tyrell in the bloody end). And Engelbart DID receive quite a bit of professional and public recognition for his device, which certainly reached iconic status some time ago. In 2000, then-U.S. President (and world-renowned feline fan) Bill Clinton even honored Engelbart with the National Medal of Technology. And in recent years, Engelbart served on numerous advisory boards. Why, there’s even a Doug Engelbart Institute.
A true pioneer in the world of computing, Engelbart also helped develop the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), a network of computers that preceded the Internet in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He also worked on the concept of “groupware,” or digital collaboration. He was even among the first men to demonstrate on-screen video teleconferencing. In 1968.
“Engelbart’s work is the very foundation of personal computing and the Internet. His vision was to solve humanity’s most important problems by using computers to improve communication and collaboration. He was world famous for his invention of the computer mouse and the origins of interactive computing.”
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak went even further in an interview with ABC following Engelbart’s passing, saying this:
“I have admired him so much. Everything we have in computers can be traced to his thinking. To me, he is a god. He gets recognized for the mouse, but he really did an awful lot of incredible stuff for computer interfaces and networking. The networking ideas were even more significant than the mouse. He did this way before the Internet. He was thinking about how computers could solve some of the main problems for mankind before many.”
As longtime internet and digital marketing practitioners, along with avowed geeks and tech-heads ourselves, we couldn’t agree more with SRI International’s summation. Although we might not go quite as far as Wozniak, who appears to hold the man in some sort of Dr. Tyrell-like status.
But we’ll certainly admit that Douglas Engelbart was an amazing and innovative man. Who will be deeply missed.
And we’ll pretend the mouse pad never really happened…
And as the proliferation of touch-screen devices – from tablets to smartphones and much more – continues to accelerate at breakneck pace, we also realize that Engelbart’s singular contribution to the world is likely headed toward eventual extinction. Or at least a trip to the endangered species’ list.
We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below this blog post. And feel free to leave your condolences for Mr. Engelbart as well.