Dear visitor,

Welcome to The Mouse Sees, a project by emma rae bruml norton in collaboration with CultureHub on the history of the mouse as a seeing object.

The Mouse Sees is meant to create discourse. Throughout the project I will publicly study and attempt to locate a history of vision embedded within the computer mouse. The project will sustain, in its materiality and performativity, a departure from Doug Engelbart’s notion of the user. Ultimately the project and its interlocutors will convene online, at times asynchronously, at times in real time, for the second Computer Mouse Conference, co-organized with Ashley Jane Lewis. The conference will be held here on this page in the spring of 2021.

Through December 2020 I will be posting objects which have opened up questions around histories of vision and the computer mouse. I will tweet when there is an update in case you are interested in following along. Later in January I'll be livestreaming The Dada of All Demos, a performance lecture which re-orients us to the conditions and tools that made The Mother of All Demos possible. It will be fun. I'll be channeling ~*~Douglas-Engelbart-Energy~*~ and leading a collective scroll through a series of images. Here's a little history on the genesis of Engelbart's mouse:

In 1968 the Augmentation Research Center, Engelbart's lab, presented their work through a live demonstration -- a kind of performance lecture. The presentation was centered on a new computing contraption named “the oN-Line System”, or NLS. Although the NLS was the physical product of the Augmentation Research Center’s work, Engelbart was always more interested in there even being a possibility for exchange between the human and the computer. His commitment to the computer was a commitment to thinking of intelligence as something to be augmented, not replaced. He had set out not only to re-imagine what computers could do, but also to re-imagine what humans could do. His ultimate goal was to produce a new kind of “knowledge worker.”1 The oN-Line System’s physical construction included an amalgamation of devices, all situated within optimal distance for the human to the machine: one hand to a mouse, another hand to a chord set and keyboard, and eyes to the screen.

The live demonstration of NLS, later coined “the mother of all demos”, performed some of the earliest versions of hyperlinks, multiple windows, video conferencing, cross-computer collaboration, and perhaps of the most importance, the use of a mouse. Windows, hyperlinks, and programmers at separate but connected computers were all easily accessible to individual using the system. What set Engelbart’s demo apart from other advances in computing at the time was that the oN-Line System kept the human embedded within the mediation of inputs and outputs. As John Markoff notes, it kept “the man in the loop.”2 Eight years after its invention in 1971 Bill English took the mouse out of its looped system and into Xerox Parc. English’s original prototype was redeveloped for the first personal computer the Xerox Alto. We can thank the Xerox Alto, a computer that heavily inspired the Steves of Silicon Valley, for the desktop metaphor.3 The visual interface of files and folders and trashcans are still with us today and through their tendency towards the visual they call for the use of a computer mouse.


1 Thierry Bardini, Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000), 107. 2 John Markoff, What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry (New York: Viking, 2005), 355. 3 Here I am referring to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak who began Apple Computer together in 1976. However, it’s worth noting that the canonical history of Silicon Valley, which we are here to subvert, is studded with Steves: inventor of the digital camera Steve Sasson, creator of the early video game Spacewar! Steve Russell, developer of early web mapping software Steve Putz, inventor of an early version of the optical mouse Steve Kirsch, and wearable computing engineer Steve Mann. The list does go on.