Were Xanadu merely the private obsession of a talented iconoclast, the piles of papers and deteriorating magnetic reels in Nelson’s many overflowing lockers could simply be carted off to a dump. But the inventor is probably right in his prediction that Xanadu’s strange story will prove to be an important chapter in the history of technology. Out of Nelson’s discombobulation was born one of the most powerful designs of the 20th century. And Xanadu’s goals - a universal library, a global information index, and a computerized royalty system - were shared by many of the smartest programmers of the first hacker generation.
The story of Ted Nelson’s Xanadu is the story of the dawn of the information age. Like the mental patient in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow who believes he is the Second World War - feeling a great burst of rosy health when The Blitz comes and a terrible pinching headache at the Battle of the Bulge - Nelson, with his unfocused energy, his tiny attention span, his omnivorous fascination with trivia, and his commitment to recording incidents whose meaning he will never analyze, is the human embodiment of the information explosion.
Nelson records everything and remembers nothing. Xanadu was to have been his cure. To assist in the procedure, he called upon a team of professionals, some of whom also happened to be his closest friends and disciples.
In the end, the patient survived the operation. But it nearly killed the doctors.
Worth a re-read.