March 19, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

Memex to the present

By Christopher P. Winner
Published: 2015-01-05

In 1959, American writer Norman Mailer published "Advertisements for Myself," whose provocative title was intended to attract attention for its immodesty. More than half-a-century later, modesty, false or otherwise, has vanished entirely, encouraging a Mailer-like approach to human interaction in which the vain self-portraiture once reserved for geniuses and tyrants is at everyone's disposal.

The forerunners of intelligence sharing existed in a world of paper libraries, massive labor unions, and pre-counter culture grids — a world Stalin and Hitler still navigated. Bush and Licklider sought a more inclusive planet in which computers would serve as malls with citizens as the browsers. The fuddy-duddy worries of poets and intellectuals — "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" T.S. Eliot wrote 1934 — was irrelevant before community progress, hence the commons. More was better and the spreading and sharing of knowledge and information symbolic of the potential of that greater more.

What these forerunners did not anticipate was the battle between their concept of a commons and the all-encompassing primacy of the self, a titanic and ongoing tussle that has pitted the "we" against "I," with the many first persons winning hands down, hurrying through information like Barzun's vacationers, rarely pausing to ascertain its context, or even desiring to, and thus changing the pace and priorities of the world in ways that will likely take centuries to measure.

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