The Future of Text Symposium



Join us for the 6th annual symposium in Silicon Valley. The 10th of December 2016 sees the sister event, collaboration to produce a demo on the 9th of December 2018 for the 50th anniversary of Doug Engelbart's 'mother of all demos' in 1968.





Program, video and slides from previous events: 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011



The golden Age of Text & Deep Literacy


We look to a positive future of text, we do not spend time wondering if there will be a future of text, we believe that the golden age of text is still in the future. We believe that the golden age of text will give us a deeper literacy where we are better equipped to have deep conversations and develop deeper understanding.


It would be a horrendous mistake to give up on over five thousand years of progress of developing ever more powerful symbolic notation systems, which is what text is, to go back to only have pre-literate interactions (pictures, video, 3D) only.


It would similarly be a terrible mistake to think of text as complete. The evolution of text is nowhere near complete, it continues on paper and in our digital world:



Digital Substrate


Just as ‘papyrus’ gave us the first cheap writing substrate and our word ‘paper’, and just as the binding into codexes for easy access with a piece of ‘birch’ wood as cover, giving us the name ‘book’, text on digital substrate becomes ever closer to unleash the root meaning of ‘text’ itself, the weaving and unweaving of the texture of meaning.


Having text in cyberspace - navigation space - is of fundamental importance, something we have only just started to get past the surface of:





The most fundamental aspect of existence is not a thing, a thing only has ‘properties’ when compared with another thing. It is often seen that information is the most fundamental but information does not exist unless it’s interactive.  So we can look at interaction as most fundamental - the most fundamental aspect of existence is not a thing nor ‘information’ about the thing but the interactions between things.


Interactivity then, is the fundament we need to support in order to support our own ability to actively ‘be’ in the world.


Marshall McLuhan said: The alphabet was one thing when applied to clay or stone, and quite another when set down on light papyrus.* This is because writing is as much about the substrate the lines of text are drawn on, as the lines themselves.





To author a document means to make decisions as to what will be in the document and what will be left out. Documents are framed human intentions.


It is not enough to design ever-flowing database environments, though that is important to do as well.


What we do need to do however, while augmenting the author’s ability to frame a point of view, is augment the readers ability to look at the point of view in as flexible and powerful ways as possible.





The above introduction attempts to lay out why I feel text is important and thus poses the question of what I am doing about raising awareness of the potential of text and actually realising some of this potential. The answer is this symposium and the Liquid | Author word processor:


The Future of Text Symposium


I started The Future of Text because I feel very strongly about the potential for interactive text to augment our ability to communicate with each other and to understand our world. I have been fortunate to get to know Doug Engelbart well, and of course I am hugely influenced by his work.


“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.”

Doug Engelbart


If we can make text deeply interactive, if we can provide interactions for even the most minor spark in the reader’s mind - if we can provide interactions that become so natural to the reader that there won’t be a decision necessary, if we can let the reader access any aspect of a text, then we will open up doors to our perceptions so far beyond what text on paper has been able to provide that we are not just talking about a new media - we are talking about new ways of being. This may sound like hyperbole but this is the promise of hypertext, as defined so long ago by Ted Nelson as “Non-sequential writing with free user movement”


This is one major aspiration for The Future of Text, but the symposium is by design very open, with pretty much any aspect of text open for discussion. Previous topics have included the design of the letterforms, the history of writing, art projects and collaboration aspects. The symposium is not designed to only inform, it is not designed to compete with TED, it is intended to inspire through cross-pollination of ideas, hence the 10 min presentation and 10 min dialog format.



The Liquid | Author Project


The Liquid | Author Project is my other push to give us new ways to interact with text. It’s a very small project, not open source yet but scheduled to be so when the code is mature enough.


Author is focused primarily at augmenting student-teacher interaction through papers with improved citations. It is available for OS X and iOS for free, with a small In-App-Upgrade to support the project should you so wish. Comments and feedback for Author is greatly appreciated:



Frode Hegland

London, April 2016


The Future of Text blog, discussing issues around text, word processing, linking, citations and of course the event itself:





A few words from previous years’ panellist:


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.”


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.”