17th level Hacker

Licklider on the Backchannel

I was just re-reading a couple of articles by J.C.R. Licklider. They’re only available as PDF as far as I’ve seen, sorry about that. In particular the second article, “Computer as Communication Device”, really struck me as a discussion about “the backchannel” that appears commonly at technical conferences these days. Take a look at the section called “Face to face through a computer” and I think you’ll see that Licklider and Taylor are talking about much the same phenomenon as we witness today, except they were talking about it back in 1968. This is a quote from that section of the paper:

So the meeting began much like any other meeting in the sense that there was an overall list of agenda and that each speaker had brought with him (figuratively in his briefcase but really within the computer) the material he would be talking about.

The computer system was a significant aid in exploring the depth and breadth of the material. More detailed information could be displayed when facts had to be pinpointed; more global information could be displayed to answer questions of relevance and interrelationship. A future version of this system will make it possible for each participant, on his own TV screen, to thumb through the speaker's files as the speaker talks--and thus check out incidental questions without interrupting the presentation for substantiation.

I think that’s just amazing. I’m sure someone has called out this connection before. But I couldn’t find mention of it anywhere so I’m posting it on my own.