God Is In The Details

You might have heard a certain phrase repeated ad infinitum. Well, it’s been bugging me for years, I could almost throw something at the TV or radio, or wherever I heard it.

So it was extraordinary to hear Ted Nelson referring to this phrase in one of his documents that I found while watching an Oxford University webcast…


Ted Nelson. You may have heard of him as “the inventor(s) of Hypertext”.

Here is the quote from his extraordinary document “TRANSLITERATURE™* – A Humanist Format for Re-Usable Documents and Media”.

“Then we deal with the content indirectly, referring to it at all times by these stabilized addresses– with referential editing*, markup, delivery and packaging.  That’s all there is to it.  However, God is in the details.**

** I believe this was the original Shaker motto in the nineteenth century, but somehow it has been assigned to another Being in recent usage. 

A shaker motto ? Yes, how did it end up being attributed to “that other being” ? Could it have something to do with our bad design methods. OUR very bad ways about thinking about solving problems ? The way we forget everything that the “great” people we admire have already taught us ad infinitum  about how to approach problems ? But, of course we dont listen. We think we can do it better. We think we can out think Einstein, the Greek Philosophers, the inventors of electricity, computers. Why don’t we learn from the past ? Nelson hints at the answer in another part of the same document. He says that all teenagers think they are the first to discover something and then go on to spout their bespoke “new” solution” to the problem. Of course Ted is saying that this is what the WWW IS, maybe even computers themselves, or at least the way we use computers.

Most extraordinary of all (see the webcast) he deconstructs the HUGE myth that computers are the “cutting edge of technology”. The motto that sells a million systems. He does this using the “simulating paper” approach to word processing. It does’nt work ! First of all because computers are not paper. You don’t use that model ! In fact that whole approach has DEVOLVED our way of using media to somewhere before the Egyptian invention of Papyrus.

Back to God. I think Ted is actually a very spiritual guy. He’s not a materialist. He is not under the illusion that endless computers and mobile phones, even space probes will automatically make us “better people”. You get back what you put in. I firmly believe that Space exploration WILL  make us “better people”, but is that because I’ve put a lot of effort into understanding it’s history, it’s Science and the whole community of exploration ? To your average internet Geek that new Mars image is just another “kool man” and then they move on. Hmmmm.

DJ Barney


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