The Future of Text : A 2020 Vision


Growing out of our annual Symposium (of which all contributors to the book are also invited as speakers), we are putting together a book 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 five hundred 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 2020.



Publishing : Paper, Digital & Metal


In order to deliver on the short and  long term aims the book we will produce not only a printed and digital edition but also aim to produce an edition etched in metal, to make it as durable for the long haul as we possibly can.





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.



Guidelines for Authors


For further information, you may want to read the 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.





Please also note that all contributors are also invited to the 9th annual Future of Text Symposium on the 9th of November at the University of Southampton, UK.








Vint Cerf. Internet Co-Inventor & Pioneer



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. Draft Text






Listed alphabetically by first names, with an aim of totalling around 100 people of brilliance from a wide range of perspectives:


  1. Adam Kampff. Neuroscientist at the Sainsbury-Wellcome Centre and founder of Voight-Kampff
  2. Amaranth Borsuk. Assistant Professor, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington Bothell and Author of The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series ‘The Book’
  3. Andrew McLuhan. Director, The McLuhan Institute
  4. Anthon Botha. TechnoScene (Pty) Ltd
  5. Belinda Barnet. Swinburne University, Author of ‘Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext’
  6. Ben Shneiderman. Professor, Author and Human Computer Interaction Pioneer, University of Maryland
  7. Bernard Vatant. Former Consultant at Mondeca and Linked Data Evangelist
  8. Bob Frankston. Developer of VisiCalc
  9. Bob Stein. The Institute for the Future of The Book and founder of Voyager
  10. Brett Greatley-Hirsch. University Academic Fellow in Textual Studies and Digital Editing, University of Leeds
  11. Bruce Horn. Software Developer and Author of the original Macintosh Finder
  12. Cathy Marshall. Texas A&M University and Hypertext Developer
  13. Chris Gebhardt. Software Engineer and Researcher, The InfoCentral Project
  14. Chris Messina. Hashtag inventor, product designer, technologist
  15. Christian Bök. Associate Professor, Charles Darwin University
  16. Christopher Gutteridge. University of Southampton and Developer of academic repositories
  17. Claus Atzenbeck. Hof University & General Co-Chair of the 2019 ACM Conference on Hypertext & Social Media
  18. Clive Thompson. Author of 'Coders' and 'Smarter Than You Think'
  19. Dan Whaley. Founder and Innovator in Web Annotations
  20. Dave De Roure. Professor of e-Research, Oxford e-Research Centre
  21. Dave King. Founder, Exaptive Inc.
  22. David M. Durant. Associate Professor/Federal Documents & Social Sciences Librarian and Author of 'Reading in a Digital Age'
  23. David Jablonowski. Artist
  24. David Millard. University of Southampton
  25. David Owen Norris. Head of Classical Performance, Professor of Music University of Southampton
  26. David Price. DebateGraph, Founder
  27. Denise Schmandt-Besserat. Professor emerita of Art and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and Author of ‘How Writing Came About’
  28. Derek Beaulieu. Director, Literary Arts, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity
  29. Doc Searls. Editor-in-chief of Linux Journal, Author of 'The Intention Economy' & Co-Author of 'The Cluetrain Manifesto'
  30. Douglas Crockford. JSON
  31. Elaine Treharne. Stanford University Text Technologies
  32. Esther Dyson. Executive Founder, Way to Wellville
  33. George Landow. Professor and Author of books on Hypertext
  34. Gyuri Lajos TrailMarks Founder
  35. Harold Thimbleby. See Change Digital Health Fellow at Swansea University and Author of 'Press On'.
  36. Howard Oakley. Mac Developer and Technical Writer
  37. Ian Cooke. Contemporary British Collections, The British Library
  38. Irina Antonova. Partner, NakedMinds Lab, Russia
  39. Jack Park. TopicQuests Foundation, Co-founder
  40. James Gleick. Author of  the NYT best-seller ‘The Information’
  41. James O'Sullivan. Lecturer in Digital Arts & Humanities, University College Cork and Author of ‘Towards a Digital Poetics: Electronic Literature & Literary Games’
  42. Jane Yellowlees Douglas. Author of pioneering Hypertext Fiction
  43. Jason Morningstar. Analog Game Designer
  44. Jeffrey T. Schnapp. Faculty Director, metaLAB(at)Harvard
  45. John Armstrong. Writer & Performance Artist
  46. John-Paul Davidson. Producer, Director & Author of ‘Planet Word’
  47. Jordan Abel. Nisga’a Author and Artist
  48. Jeremy Helm. Inventor, Communication Advocate and California Bay Area Organizer of
  49. Jesse Grosjean. HogBaySoftware, Developer of ‘WriteRoom’
  50. Keith Houston. Author of ‘The Book’ and ‘Shady Characters’
  51. Keith Martin. London College of Communication Senior Lecturer and Author of design books
  52. Kenny Hemphill. Technology Journalist and Copy Editor
  53. Ken Perlin. Professor of Computer Science, New York University and Director, NYU Future Reality Lab
  54. Leigh Nash. Publisher at Invisible Publishing
  55. Livia Polanyi. Linguist
  56. Leslie Carr. University of Southampton, Professor of Web Science
  57. Lewis Dartnell. University of Westminster Research Scientist, Presenter and Author of ‘Origins’
  58. Lori Emerson. Associate Professor and Director of the Media Archaeology Lab, University of Colorado Boulder
  59. Marc-Antoine Parent. Developer of IdeaLoom
  60. Mark Anderson. University of Southampton, PhD Student
  61. Mark Bernstein. Eastgate Systems, Developer of hypertext software ‘Tinderbox’ and ‘Storyspace’
  62. Martin Tiefenthaler. Book and Graphic Designer, Teacher of Typography and Semiotics at ›die Graphische‹, Vienna/Austria; co-founder of tga (typographic society austria)
  63. Michael Witmore. Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library
  64. Mike Zender. Editor, Visible Language. Professor, Myron E. Ullman Jr. School of Design, University of Cincinnati
  65. Naomi S. Baron. American University, Author of 'Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World'
  66. Neil Jefferies. Head of Innovation, Bodleian Digital Libraries, University of Oxford
  67. Nick Montfort. Poet, Professor of digital media at MIT and Author of ‘The Future’
  68. Oliver Reichenstein. Developer of iA Writer
  69. Panda Mery. Productive irritant
  70. Paul Presley. Editor of Geographical Magazine
  71. Paul Smart. Author and Philosopher
  72. Peter Flynn. Principal Consultant at Silmaril Consultants and former Head of Research and Academic Computing Support at UCC
  73. Phil Gooch. Founder & CEO Scholarcy
  74. Pip Willcox. Head of Research, The National Archives, UK
  75. Richard Ovenden. Bodley’s Librarian, University of Oxford
  76. Sarah Walton. Author and Digital Consultant
  77. Sarven Capadisli. Web technologist
  78. Shane Gibson. Technologist and Political Scientist
  79. Shuo Yang. Interaction Designer at Google
  80. Sonja Knecht. Copywriter, Design Writer, Lecturer at Berlin University of the Arts (and other) in Verbal/Visual Communications
  81. Stephen Lekson. Curator of Archaeology, Jubilado, University of Colorado Museum of Natural History
  82. Steve Newcomb. Consultant. “Hoping for efficiently compelling dialectics. Curious about expressing worldviews as semantic graphs”
  83. Ted Nelson. Visionary, Interactive Media Pioneer and coiner of the term 'hypertext'
  84. Teodora Petkova. Author of the Brave New Text. PhD student at Sofia University
  85. Tim Donaldson. Falmouth University, Typographer and Teacher
  86. Tim Ingold. Professor Emeritus of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. Author of 'The Perception of the Environment'
  87. Timur Schukin. Partner, NakedMinds Lab, Russia
  88. Tom Standage. The Economist Deputy Editor and Author of ‘Writing on the Wall’
  89. Dame Wendy Hall. University of Southampton



Post script


Ismail Serageldin. Founder & Director Emeritus, Library of Alexandria



Editor & Curator


Frode Hegland. Developer of Liquid | Author, Reader & 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 Liquid | 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.


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.”




Further Contributions


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





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'