Most of us use one just about every day. We roll it along the surface to guide that little arrow around the screen. It’s how we point and click, edit our work, and drag and drop.
It’s the mouse, of course. We take it for granted, but it didn’t always exist. It had to be invented, just like every other manufactured item that has become an accepted part of our everyday lives.
In the case of the mouse, the inventor was Douglas Engelbart, who died this week. He filed for a patent for the mouse in 1967 — describing it as a device that allowed the user to alternate visual displays at selected locations — and received one in 1970.
The early mouse was a clunky wooden object with two wheels, three buttons, and a cord coming out the back like a mouse’s tail. After the patent was granted, other companies began experimenting with Engelbart’s invention, and by the 1980s the mouse had become an accepted part of every home computer kit sold at technology stores. In the process, the design was modified and the bulky wooden mouse morphed into the sleek plastic item that conforms comfortably to our hands and that we now use without a second thought.
Engelbart’s colleagues considered him a visionary. He also came up with far-sighted concepts concerning computer networking, digital collaboration, and video teleconferencing that the computer types consider to be even more significant than the mouse.
They may be right, technologically, but from a social standpoint it would be hard to top the impact of the humble mouse, which helped make computers accessible and usable for bloggers, and Facebookers, and other average folks like us. We thank you for that profound contribution, Mr. Engelbart, and we will remember you.