future of text symposium



The symposium concerns all aspects of text but has an emphasis on interactive text. This year will be the 9th anniversary and will also be the launch party for the Future of Text Book:


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Format : Presentations & Dialogue


The format is usually 10 minute presentations with 5 minute dialogue and then straight to the next speaker. We have been doing this for quite a few years now and find that this format keeps us all engaged and keeps the momentum going. The timing is rigorously enforced for a stress-free day. Slides or no slides is up to the individual speaker. No live demo of any software however, due to the very tight speaking slots, though recorded demos are of course very much welcomed. The purpose of day one is to bring together as many useful perspectives on the future of text as possible, however tangential, to stimulate creative thinking.


In terms of this symposium, we have written a Definition and description of the Purpose of Text as a starting point for discussion and there is a Glossary of Terms for Interactive Text on Frode Hegland's blog. Ted Nelson, who coined the term ‘Hypertext’ has released a video with his perspective.





Why a symposium on text? To be more effective at our work we need more effective ways to interact with the masses of text we come across in our work every day. Very little has improved since the first graphical word processor of the Macintosh in 1984 - let alone Doug Engelbart's Augment of the 1970s - though we have vastly more text to deal with.


This is why we convene for The Future of Text, because the history of text is not over and the future of text has not yet been written.


We don't define text rigidly as this would artificially constrain this future. The essential element of text is its symbolic meaning, which even the first red dot in the cave provided - giving it the property of communication over time. Further is the grammar which connects pieces into greater wholes. As for the rest, let's look into that together.


While face to face discussion, getting to know people and learning how to be great collaborators are supremely important (hence the symposium’s very existence to start with), we feel that the documents we communicate through for the day to day business of knowledge work needs to massively improve - it’s simply not enough to try to stay on top of information, it can no longer be a valid excuse that there is too much information - we must develop more powerful ways to interact with, and through the information, allowing the information to be a resource, not a drag on our abilities to think and communicate. We need to dive into the pool of meaning to collaborate effectively to improve the world we live in and which we want to present to future generations.


The focus is by no means about text in isolation, in a column, on a page. The focus is on expanding the usefulness of text as symbol manipulation and communication, with rich interactivity and high levels of visual control and use of the high-bandwidth human visual field. In other words, let’s keep the core notion of the power behind the symbols but let’s blow the doors away with what that might actually mean.


“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”

Eleanor Roosevelt




The Symposium Has Been Generously Supported By


The University of Southampton • WAIS  • W3C • Google UK • Google US • Vint Cerf • The British Library • The Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation • Artchestra • LCC • Wikimedia • Nefertari • The William A & Elwanda Fenwick Foundation • Unapologetic  • ReImagine Science • Sam Hahn • The Liquid Information Company Ltd. • Liquid | Author • Starbucks UK • Continue Magazine • The Marshall McLuhan Center • The Institute for The Future






Tom Standage, Deputy Editor of The Economist: “At a time of rapid technological change, the Future of Text Symposium offers an invaluable high-level perspective on the original information technology, where it has come from, and where it is going.”


Timothy Donaldson, typographer and teacher: “The future of text is one of the most stimulating public disseminations of knowledge I have encountered, its pithy format and emphasis on discourse makes it an intellectual delight.”


Philip Ball, science writer: “The notion of what text is becoming and what it might become is of vital importance to the future of an information society, with implications ranging from questions of artistic expression to the meanings of democracy. Yet it's remarkable and perhaps disturbing that so few people are examining the issues in a broad, multidisciplinary way. The Future of Text Symposium is an event which fills that gap in a manner both deep and rigorous, but also engaging.”


David Jablonowski, artist:“In the fine arts one talks with all respect about the 'Avantgarde' in the arts. This symposium is about the 'Avantgarde' of the entire human communication -no less than that. In about 10 years people will realise what they've missed”


Ilona Regulski, Curator Egyptian Written Culture at The British Museum: “As an academic and museum professional studying the past, I usually perceive texts in a historical context. The approach to look at the future of text is innovative though necessary, and thereby refreshingly informative. The Future of Text Symposium is an inspiring event. The sheer variety of fields represented emphasise that the visible aspect of language; through text, is our most important means of communication and deserves more attention.”


Jane Yellowlees Douglas, PhD, Associate Professor of the University of Florida: “'The Future of Text' should be called ‘How to Live in the New Now,’ since you’d be hard-pressed to find a wider range of expertise on how text morphed into the words that wrap around and inform our lives. In addition, you’ll learn how to live with and capitalise on the changing face and uses of text through dialogue with some of today’s top experts. If you don’t emerge with a different view of how to work with text, take your pulse: you might be dead.”


Bob Stein of Voyager Books, publisher of the original interactive books: “The Future of Text 2013 symposium in London was a brilliantly curated and organised event. The day's videos could be the syllabus for a terrific course about the future of reading and writing.”


Chris Stringer, Author, from the Natural History Museum in London: “I thought the Future of Text symposia  in London were really stimulating events, where a diverse group of specialists engaged in free-ranging discussion between themselves but also in open dialogue with their audience.”


Dame Wendy Hall of the University of Southampton: “The innovation of interactive text is essential and the Future of Text Symposium is a vital part of this process.”


George Landow, Professor of English and Art History Emeritus, Brown University: “This was a delightful, informative well-run mini-conference with a particularly attractive and efficient format that investigated the past, present, and future of text.”


Ren Cahoon, founder and president of Reynolds Cahoon LLC: “It was an extraordinary event.”


Dino Karabeg of the University of Oslo: “Having been a presenter at the 2014 Future of Text Symposium at Google, London, I am glad to recommend in strongest terms this year's Future of Text Symposium in the Bay Area. By organizing the Future of Text events, Frode Hegland is continuing, and broadening and deepening, the tradition initiated by Doug Engelbart, his late friend and patron. By bringing together speakers who have deep academic insights into the origins, history, nature… of textual communication, with software tool developers, Frode wants to make sure that the future of text keeps up with contemporary insights and needs, and with technological developments. Hand-picked international speakers help reach his goal, and make this event uniquely valuable.”


Robert  E.  Horn, Senior Researcher Human Science and Technology Advanced Research Institute (H-STAR) Stanford University: “What do words to best and what do visual elements (images, both representational and abstract, and diagrammatics, both quantitative and qualitative) do best when they are working together– integrally, intimately, synergistically?  That is a communication question for the 21st century.  That is a scientific “best practices of thinking” question for the 21st century. That is an explosive and expressive question for the visual arts for the 21st century.  That is one of the big questions that The Future of Text has begun to explore.”


Adriano Ferrari: “It was both wonderful and arduous... worth it though for the learning and perspective it gave us.”


Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet: “I have participated in the Future of Text events and find them thought-provoking and poignant reminders that text is how we communicate with the future.”