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"There was a time when one old eccentric guy with a notebook could do something important to science. Now even the resources of a major university are often not enough."
- Jerry Pournelle

Primer  
  A special software program that teaches basic language skills.  

This program ran on a remarkable computer called a runcible that was shaped like a book. Each page was a paper-thin display called a mediatron; the spine of the book contained the computer hardware.

Nell's first experience with the Primer

The book spoke in a lovely contralto, with an accent like the very finest Vickys. The voice was like a real person's - though not like anyone Nell had ever met. It rose and fell like slow surf on a warm beach and when Nell closed her eyes, it swept her out into an ocean of feelings.

Once upon a time there was a little Princess named Nell who was imprisoned in a tall dark castle on an island in the middle of a great sea... from time to time a raven would come to visit...

"What's a raven?" Nell said.

... it turned out to be a bird. Big letters appeared beneath. "R A V E N," the book said. "Raven. Now, say it with me."

"Raven."

"Very good! Nell, you are a clever girl, and you have much talent with words. Can you spell raven?"

...After a few seconds, the first of the letters began to blink. Nell prodded it.

The letter grew until it had pushed all the other letters and pictures off the edges of the page...

From The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson.
Published by Bantam Books in 1995
Additional resources -

This item should be compared with the Pink Oliphaunt, a specialized dataset found in A Fire Upon the Deep (1992) by Vernor Vinge.

Compare also teaching methods like electro-education from The Knowledge Machine (1948) by Edmond Hamilton, electromechanical educator from The Fourth "R" (1959) by George O. Smith, the mechanical teacher from The Fun They Had (1951) by Isaac Asimov, sound analysis from Assignment in Eternity (1953) by Robert Heinlein and accelerated schooling from Cities in Flight (1957) by James Blish.

Thanks to Winchell Chung of Project Rho for prodding me to include this item.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Diamond Age
  More Ideas and Technology by Neal Stephenson
  Tech news articles related to The Diamond Age
  Tech news articles related to works by Neal Stephenson

Primer-related news articles:
  - Ethiopian Children Learn From Diamond Age Primers

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