Wednesday, December 28, 2016

That time I met David Thornburg and Roger Wagner

When I was young I was caught up in the romance of the music, writing and politics of the era. And I totally missed the romance with technology that was going on in a parallel universe at the same time.
In hindsight I think I would have really enjoyed it as much as the 
Iiterary world, both cultures driven by creativity and innovation, and often edgy with the push/pull of personality.
I never even knew anyone who took computer science at school. I had a brush with a systems analyst friendship while working at AC Nielsen, but never gave a second thought as to how those big paper books of data were created.
Many years later I started delving into technology on my own. I had had a few interesting computers including a portable Amstrad and a classic Tandy. 
I developed an interest in operating systems and was delighted at the transition from floppy disks to a real hard drive. My crowning achievement was reading and digesting the entire Que Windows manual and trying out various things. My son came home for the holidays, used Limewire to download some music, and a virus captured my new computer and held it hostage in safe mode. I refused to take it in for service and eventually fixed it myself.
Also in those years a friend and I started a webpage design service with the world's best name: Spiderwomen:)
I found a copy of The Soul of A New Machine in a used bookstore, read lots of others as well, and along the way was transported to the parallel universe of Xerox PARC and other transformational research settings.
Flash forward to the BIT16 conference.
At the opening of the conference, in the informal setting of Minds On Media, Peter Skillen introduced David Thornburg, Norma Thornburg, Sarah Armstrong and Roger Wagner. They were present to talk about the legacy of Seymour Papert, but I was enthralled with the snippets of their own personal journeys that were interwoven into their and Peter's comments.
A short while later I spoke briefly to Roger Wagner (inventor of HyperDuino), to thank him. He gave me one of his business cards, which captures an era in a few short quotes. Here's one: "Roger Wagner didn't just read the first book on programming the Apple computer - he wrote it." (Steve Wozniak)
As is the way at fabulous night-and-day events like BIT, the annual late afternoon social seemed about a week later, instead of the following afternoon. I didn't know if any of my friends were going, but I decided to go cash in my drink ticket for a glass of wine and mingle for a while. Finally I thought I recognized a friendly woman who had spoken to our group at The Keg the night before and went to say hello and see how her day had been. But, like my father, I cannot properly remember what people look like:). Instead of the nice restaurant lady, it turned out the person I ended up chatting with was Sarah Armstrong, and a minute or two later to my amazement Norma and David Thornburg joined us. I thought they would have been mobbed by fans but apparently I was the only one at that moment, anyway!
I was quite nervous and came so close to just saying hello and wandering off, but thought better of it. Quite soon, Sarah and Norma went off to deal with their luggage. Again I came close to excusing myself but this time I didn't want to seem rude, leaving David on his own. Besides, who can resist a conversation about Canadian comedy and TV, especially with someone who ended up getting welcomed to the location set of Murdoch Mysteries by accident!
In short, my conversation with David Thornburg, inventor of the touch screen (in the 1970's), was as normal, funny and engaging as with any of the very cool inhabitants of BIT. Except... as we rambled on from topic to topic, I got a glimpse of the magic of a great thinker. Step 1 - Star Trek. Step 2 - an episode about learning the myths of a far flung space civilization in order to understand its citizens. Step 3 - well you can imagine. How meaningful this path would be for young people today, as 21c learners in their own worlds in 2016 or 17. As David observed, what if a teacher based a whole semester on this voyage of discovery? What if students understood the power of myth and its role in their past, present and future? What if understanding the myths of other cultures yielded understanding?
Well, I am still reading about the era that I missed, with the latest being the biography of Steve Jobs. But those days will now have a special resonance since meeting four iconic people this past fall.
PS Wrote this in the car on a touch screen:)


Peter said...


I am SOOOOO thrilled that you spent some casual and fun time with my beautiful and incredible friends whom you discovered are incredible pioneers in the journey we are on.

It certainly has been my good fortune to have started into all of this in those very early days and so was part of that wave of excitement. (Of course, I was on a different path as I was in schools with kids and teachers—and wasn't so bright as to invent touch screens and HyperStudio and the like! Giggle.)

Thank you for sharing this post!

I quite accidentally came across this post—maybe next time you'll hyperlink our names (then we'll get notifications)! :-)

Anne Shillolo said...

Peter, you are right! Just trying to get back into blogging, and forgot about linking names. I can re-tweet, in order to share properly. Thank you for commenting and understanding my enthusiasm:)

Anne Shillolo said...

Oh my gosh, I just got the alert that you just did this - thanks so much!

Brenda said...

Anne, thanks for your reflections and so glad that you spent some great time with David, Norma, Sara and Roger!
Peter and I can never get enough of them and were so happy that they accepted our invitation to be at Minds on Media!!