Robert A. Uhl

The emacs paper

An explanation of why emacs exists, notable for the optimism it contains:

The programmable editor is an outstanding opportunity to learn to program! A beginner can see the effect of his simple program on the text he is editing; this feedback is fast and in an easily understood form. Educators have found display programming to be very suited for children experimenting with programming, for just this reason (see LOGO).

Programming editor commands has the additional advantage that a program need not be very large to be tangibly useful in editing. A first project can be very simple. One can thus slide very smoothly from using the editor to edit into learning to program with it.

When large numbers of nontechnical workers are using a programmable editor, they will he tempted constantly to begin programming in the course of their day-to-day lives. This should contribute greatly to computer literacy, especially because many of the people thus exposed will be secretaries taught by society that they are incapable of doing mathematics, and unable to imagine for a moment that they can learn to program. But that won’t stop them from learning it if they don’t know that it is programming that they are learning! According to Bernard Greenberg, this is already happening with Multics EMACS.

If only computer users had continued to try to use computers, we might not be stuck in the Outlook-worm-ridden universe we currently have.