Monday, October 31, 2022

Special Places

Oil painting of a cafe scene by Edouard Manet. Man at table with top hat in the foreground. Waitress drinking behind him. Another woman in the distance in the background.Source: from Google Art Project and on display in Walters Art Museum.
At the Café by Edouard Manet from the Google Arts & Culture via Wikipedia

Los Alamos, SRI’s Augmentation Research Center (ARC), Café Guerbois at the beginning of Impressionism. For the right person, each was a special place. What must it have been like to be at Los Alamos with Fermi, Feynman, and others for the Manhattan Project? Or to be at the Augmentation Research Center for the development of the future of personal computing including the mouse, the graphical user interface, and video conferencing (culminating in the Mother of All Demos)? Or to be in the Café Guerbois with Manet, Degas, Monet, Renoir, and others for the birth of Impressionism? Just imagine the ideas and excitement that must have been in the air in each place.

You cannot go to any of those places today. Sure, there’s still a research lab at Los Alamos and the ideas of ARC are everywhere. But those exciting, special times are in the past. Special places don’t just exist in a place, they also exist in a time. It is easy to mourn that these special places no longer exist. I think this is misguided. Instead, we should celebrate that they ever existed!