The Future of Text Book : A 2020 Vision



Growing out of the annual Symposium, we have put together a book published by Future Text Publishing on the possible futures of text which has turned out to be the largest survey of the future of text ever undertaken, with a wide range of different perspectives and inspirations.


The book is intended to be a collection of dreams for how we want text to evolve as well as how we understand our current textual infrastructures, how we view the history of writing and much more. The aim is to make it inspire a powerfully rich future of text in a multitude of ways today and to still have value in a thousand years and beyond*. It should serve as a record for how we saw the medium of text and how it relates to our world, our problems and each other in the early twenty first century.













opening quote


“The thing that amazed me - even humbled me - about the digital computer when I first encountered it over fifty years ago - was that, in the computer, I saw that we have a tool that does not just move earth or bend steel, but we have a tool that actually can manipulate symbols and, even more importantly, portray symbols in new ways, so that we can interact with them and learn. We have a tool that radically extends our capabilities in the very area that makes us most human, and most powerful.”


“There is a native American myth about the coyote, a native dog of the American prairies - how the coyote incurred the wrath of the gods by bringing fire down from heaven for the use of mankind, making man more powerful than the gods ever intended. My sense is that computer science has brought us a gift of even greater power, the ability to amplify and extend our ability to manipulate symbols…”


“We need to become better at being humans. Learning to use symbols and knowledge in new ways, across groups, across cultures, is a powerful, valuable, and very human goal. And it is also one that is obtainable, if we only begin to open our minds to full, complete use of computers to augment our most human of capabilities.”
Douglas C. Engelbart






Frode Hegland. Editor. ‘Truth’ is not in the written words. But in how they are connected. This is why text-interactions are important. This is why, in an environment of huge volumes of academic and scientific text as well as weaponised social media with high-velocity fake news, the way we can address and connect determines what we see and therefore where we stand. Draft Text






Listed alphabetically by first names, some people you will have heard of, others provide more niche perspectives, all are brilliant minds. The contributors are roughly grouped, to make it easier to get an overview, but these are not people you can really put in a box. Greyed out entries have not yet submitted.



authors, artists & publishers



academic, archive & library affiliated
(whether author or other)










Ismail Serageldin. Founder & Director Emeritus, Library of Alexandria






Includes : timeline of digital text



Editor & Curator


Frode Hegland. Developer of Author, Reader & Liquid Flow, and Host of the Future of Text Symposium


Frode is passionate about unleashing the potential of the future of text. To this end, he has held the annual Future of Text Symposium since 2011, many of which have been co-hosted by Vint Cerf. He has also designed and built two novel text-interaction systems, the macOS word processor Author and the Liquid Flow utility:


Frode is currently a PhD student at the University of Southampton where he is researching dynamic views in word processors for literature reviews, and developing the Visible-Meta system, as blogged about on This system is being co-developed by this community and will be employed in the book. You can see one consequence of the work here, Full Citation Copying (1:30 min):


His work is greatly influenced by Doug Engelbart whom he worked with at the turn of the millennium. Doug Engelbart sent him this email in 2003: “I honestly think that you are the first person I know that is expressing the kind of appreciation for the special role which IT can (no, will) play in reshaping the way we can symbolize basic concepts to elevate further the power that conditioned humans can derive from their genetic sensory, perceptual and cognitive capabilities.” A statement he takes seriously.






Contributions for Future Editions


If you feel that you have something compelling to write on the future of text, please send a proposal to If you can think of someone else to add to the list, please send their names and also contact information if you have it.




Humans became behaviourally modern
the moment they committed to storing abstract information outside their brains

Lyn Wadley
as quoted in Mark Moffett's 'The Human Swarm'




Publishing : Paper, Digital & Metal





The book will be published in annual editions or volumes (to be decided), starting with ‘The Future of Text : A 2020 Vision’ in 2020. This is an open access publication.


Paper Edition


Design and printing tests started late 2019.


Metal Edition


The metal edition will be all the pages printed on one sheet of metal, in tiny type, which we are still experimenting with making as small as possible with currently available technology.  A few will be placed in secure storage around the world for future generations to enjoy/discover/come across.


Digital Edition : Advanced ‘Reader’


The digital version will be published in open PDF and will be bundled with a much-upgraded Liquid | Reader which will have as many of the features listed in the link below as we can find money to pay for the programming of. The idea is to present the book in a format that actually delivers some futuristic and useful interactions, including copy and paste as gig-resolution citation from a document with different authors of different chapters:




Guidelines for Authors


For further information, you may want to read the blog posts Author's Invitation and the Author's Guide, but the key info is:



Contributors are separately welcome to submit an optional glossary for their writing, of a reasonable length. The format will be determined as a group, to aid reading into the deep future and for people of very different perspectives today.




FUTURE(S) of Text(S)


When we talk about the future of text we are talking about powerful potentials but it's fair to ask the question 'what text? If we talk about the future of images we’d instantly have to clarify what type of images we are referring to; photographs, drawings, 3D renderings or something else. We’d also need to specify their purpose, for example; to explore the world through an artists eyes or to provide a lifelike depiction of specific things?


With text these questions can easily remain just out of sight, casting a general fog over the futures we dream of. The text in a text message, in a social media post, a warning label and in an academic document have the same orthography and may even be in the same typeface but the act and meaning of their authorship, storage, linkage, consumption, analysis and effect, is vastly different–and so are the avenues for improvement.


What are *your* dreams for the future of text in your field or area of interest? What do *you* think text should be optimised for and how? How can thinking and communicating be improved by better text-interaction systems in the area you are concerned about? What do you think text is and what it can be?


Text is a medium of representation and as such becomes a media for thinking and communication. How we choose to communicate and to whom, and how we choose to represent our knowledge will, to an extent, determine who we present ourselves to be. With near infinite choice as to how to realise the potential of digital text–without even delving into algorithmic text on social networks–the medium is more the message than ever.






All of the editions will feature future looking innovations including Visual-Meta to make information about the book readable by humans and machine. This will even enable the metal edition to easily become richly interactive again when scanned in the far future.






Lines on a substrate is not text until it carries meaning