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Paul Otlet Envisioned the Internet Before Computers, Without Computers (2014) (vice.com)
41 points by dredmorbius 3 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 14 comments





> It's a new way of seeing the internet, in one of its best lights—a standardized compendium of human knowledge that can be accessed from wherever you are. From this vantage the trolls, the frivolity of listicles fade away, and it seems like a triumph.

This is very much how I see it.

I’m sitting in a hospital room with a family member recovering from a minor surgery, browsing HN and other topics of interest. For literally anything that comes to mind I can access more material than I could read in a lifetime, from an iPad. It’s pretty crazy when you think about it, and I’m thankful for it.


"I can access more material than I could read in a lifetime, from an iPad. It’s pretty crazy when you think about it, and I’m thankful for it."

I too am thankful for it. Although, I see this as a blessing and a curse.

It's now so hard to stay focused on anything specific, so time consuming to wade through all the useful and non-useful information, so full of distractions and misinformation. If you know where to look it's wonderful, but I feel the same a way about good books, magazine or blog.

When I was a kid, I remember my grandmother had The Encyclopaedia Britannica. It was wonderfully simple and enjoyable to read through. Every page felt interesting and exciting.

I don't really get this feeling from anything online.

The Internet is wonderful, I wish people respected it more.


That problem, and the problem of finding quality information, is precisely what's driven multiple information rationalisers.

It's a sentiment I first had on entering my uni library and its 3 million or so volumes, recognising I'd never be able to access more than a tiny fraction of them. The limits of human information processing are formidable.

Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book inspires me, perhaps, to try to attempt "How to Read 10,000 books", that being a sustained rate of 150 books a year over about 65 years, or one every two days or so. The answer would have to involve not reading much of them, as well as other techniques.

You can find the sentiments in Ecclesiastes ("Much study is a weariness of the flesh, and of the making of books there is no end."), Seneca, Diderot (his commentary on information overload is a classic), Schopenhauer, and many more.

The notion that a better bibliographic control can solve the problem is a compelling and attractive one, but also ... at odds with actual experience. It's a possiblity I'm pursuing myself (how I happened to come across Otlet), though the problems he encountered, of creating, maintaining, sustaining, and using the index, seem formidable.

With the rise of the World Wide Web and search engines, the approach has generally been toward full-text search combined with a measure of reputational assessment, rather than topical or semantic assessment, though multiple (mostly abortive) attempts at a semantic Web have been made.

My thought is that a hybrid approach combining elements, but not obsessing over the purity of any one method, might be an improvement.


The first internet was the telegraphy network, in fact, much foundational computer technology came from telegraphy.

"The Victorian Internet" by Tom Standage


I second that book recommendation. Very interesting and educational.

I wonder what telegraph era memes and shitposting looked like.

Terry Pratchett's Going Postal has a bit of that.

The website of the 'Mundaneum' Belgium museum is here: http://www.mundaneum.org/en

(Alas the pop-up message seems to be in French only. Is it a plea?)


The pop-up basically says that there is limited heat in the museum and will reopen 2020-01-15. Because of inconvenience, they will give free access to the exhibitions and some coffee at the end of the exhibit visit. They also extending the visit to one of the exhibits.

So did E. M. Forster[1], who in 1909 published The Machine Stops.[2]

In it, Forster predicted something like a proto-Internet, chat rooms, video conferencing, and internet addiction.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._M._Forster

[2] - https://www.ele.uri.edu/faculty/vetter/Other-stuff/The-Machi...


Also Tesla if I recall correctly.

Imagine a species having the capacity to share every bit of its knowledge, with every one of its people, and choosing not to do so.

Calling all PHP, SQL, Elastic Search, distributed computing experts, and everyone else with the drive to share knowledge. Sign up to change that, here.


Sign where?

What interest me at the moment are contemporary views of Otlet's philosophy of cataloguing and classification.

His Universal Decimal Classification still exists, and has a common lineage with Melvil Dewey's Decimal Classification.

Otlet's notion of comprehensive bibliographic metadata seems somewhat passe, with modern focus on full-text-search and reputational ranking.




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