Douglas Adams: Hyperland

Sebastian Greger

It’s been well over a decade since I last watched this classic (in a class at Media Lab Helsinki – coincidentally just around 2005, the setting of Adams’ envisioned future), but since it surfaced at last weekend’s IndieWeb pop-up session on Gardens and Streams, it’s time for a rewatch:

In this one-hour documentary produced by the BBC in 1990, Douglas falls asleep in front of a television and dreams about future time when he may be allowed to play a more active role in the information he chooses to digest. A software agent, Tom (played by Tom Baker), guides Douglas around a multimedia information landscape, examining (then) cuttting-edge research by the SF Multimedia Lab and NASA Ames research center, and encountering hypermedia visionaries such as Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson. Looking back now, it’s interesting to see how much he got right and how much he didn’t: these days, no one’s heard of the SF Multimedia Lab, and his super-high-tech portrayal of VR in 2005 could be outdone by a modern PC with a 3D card. However, these are just minor niggles when you consider how much more popular the technologies in question have become than anyone could have predicted - for while Douglas was creating Hyperland, a student at CERN in Switzerland was working on a little hypertext project he called the World Wide Web…

Available on the Internet Archive, this somewhat trippy, and for sure visionary documentary on hypertext from thirty years ago still keeps to inspire; what with Vannevar Bush (Memex, “As We May Think”), Ted Nelson (Xanadu) and all those other pioneers in it…

I'm Sebastian, Sociologist and Interaction Designer. This journal is mostly about bringing toge­ther social science and design for inclusive, privacy-focused, and sustainable "human-first" digital strategies. I also tend to a "digital garden" with carefully curated resources.

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