Vol. 12, No. 3,009 - The American Reporter - October 19, 2006

Hominy & Hash: THE MOUSE AND ME
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.

Printable version of this story

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- In mid-December 1968, Douglas C.Englebart=

and some 17 researchers demonstrated live an online system they had been wo= rking on since 1962. Rumor has it that at this public debut of a little box with an electric cord attached, someone in the room jokingly said, "Eeek, it's a mouse."

Although the mouse, as we continue to know it, was only one of many = innovations that day -- hypertext, object addressing, dynamic file linking, = shared-screen collaboration with two people in differentplaces -- it's only= the mouse that has dramatically altered the courseof my life.

Progr= ammed to raise my left hand at the sound of a bell toreturn the carriage fo= r a new line of type, I now found myself on theoutside looking in. By the= time I was able to by an IBM Selectric withautomatic return, they stopped = making ribbons for it. I could no longerstay outside, I had to go in.

Except for the screen, it looked pretty much like a typewriter.The = keyboard was the same. I quickly learned to use up arrows, downarrows, hom= e, end, scroll, left, right, shift and tab. Easy. Then Igot a mouse pad = for Christmas -- but I didn't have a mouse. When thefunction of the mouse = was explained, I said, "Well, how lazy can yoube? It doesn't do anything I = can't do with the arrows."

Then, I was given a mouse -- to prove somebody's point. I hadit in= stalled by a young fellow who wasn't even born in 1968 but nowflipped cord= s, cables, plugs and a disk around before saying, "Okay,now, just move the= mouse where you want it to go on the screen anddouble click the left butto= n." I looked blankly at him.

Now, I've felt dumb in my life before, but always had the graceto l= ook intelligent. Not this time. He knew the look. "Here," hesaid. He cu= pped the hump-backed little 'mouse' in his right hand, slidit around as he = watched an on-screen arrow point to File. He doubleclicked and the= menu came down; he clicked on New and the screen becamethe blank sh= eet of paper I write on. He was doing instantly what Icould do with arrow= s and entering -- yet he never took his eyes off thescreen as I must as a = hunt-and-peck typist.

"Here, try it," he said, pointing me toward the chair. Ishifted in= my seat and braved handling the mouse with as much anxiety asI felt handli= ng my kid's gerbils. I moved the mouse and the arrow wenthelter-skelter ac= ross the screen.

"Whoa, wait a minute, slow down, easy on the touch," he said with= authority. I followed instructions and in minutes I had written words -- = "entered text," he told me -- learned to highlight, cut or copy, paste, del= ete words or lines -- in short, to do things impossible to conceive of with= a manual or electric typewriter,nor even with a computer's keyboard using = keystrokes instead of this intelligent little mouse who movesthe cursor as = I direct it.

The mouse, according to Doug Englebard, introduced the idea ofhavin= g "...a workstation at your disposal all day that was perfectlyresponsib= le ... or responsive."

Only 1000 people attended the December 9, 1968, meeting in MenloPar= k, Calif., but the little mouse sitting front and center was partof a revol= ution that continues to explode every day. One mouse then,and now, there= is probably a mouse in more homes than there arehouses. It doesn't seem t= hat long ago that a mark of progress washaving more television sets than ba= thtubs in this country.

Until this, I believe every invention in my lifetime was reallyjust= an innovation. Radio and sound through a wire led to picturesthrough the = wires and television; telephones just became easier to useand fancier to h= old. Electric light provided candle power;automobiles had horse power.

The computer age, however, changed my life, while at the sametime= did not change me. I'm still a hunt-and-peck typist and I'm alsoa hunt-a= nd-seek traveler on the Internet, ever searching, clicking here,clicking th= ere. I don't understand any of it. The beauty is, I don'thave to.

After brief mention on National Public Radio's This Date inHistory= , I started looking for information on the day the mouse wasintroduced. A= t first, I found nothing and convinced myself there wasnothing because if = I were searching, I must have already found the mouseand knew how to use it= .

Finally, I located mention of The Bootstrap Institute, conceivedby = Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart, "to further his lifelong career goal ofboosting a= ny organization's ability to successfully address problemsthat are complex = and urgent."

Along with publishing the goal, there was a mission statement ofa d= ozen or more lines. I'm not computer literate enough to understandmost of= their language of intent. But, in one line, I found wordsspeaking directl= y to me and telling exactly how I fit into thisexploding phenomenon. Part = of their mission is to "Enable a wholenew way of thinking about the way we= work, learn, and live together."

Speaking for myself, they have done just that. As for the restof t= he world, see for yourself.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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