Doug Engelbart in his Prime

On America's birthday, noting a man who exemplified what we'd like to think of as our national traits.


As you've heard, the tech-industry visionary Douglas Engelbart has died, at age 88. I met him only a few times and have no special standing to comment on his passing. But on the eve of our nation's birthday, I wanted to be sure our site noted the work and achievements of a person who exemplified what we'd like to think of as our national traits and temperament.

This site, maintained by Stanford, has clips and background of Engelbart in computing's infant age -- including a carefully annotated version of his famous "Mother of All Demos," 45 years ago, source of the photo above. In it, amid machines that look laughably crude by modern standards, he laid out with surprising foresight many aspects of the evolving human/machine interaction as we know it today.

In the NYT, John Markoff has a nice appreciation of Engelbart; it includes a mention of the seminal role a famous Atlantic article played in Engelbart's thinking. Harry McCracken has another good piece in Time. Two years ago during a guest-blogging stint here Mark Bernstein, of Eastgate software, put Engelbart's influence in context. He was a man who made a difference, and was both respected and liked.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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