Apparently, the internet was envisioned by a Belgian bibliographer and entrepreneur named Paul Otlet in 1934. Yes, that’s right. 1934.
People just got reminded of this again at the World Science Festival in New York last week where Alex Wright, member of the User Experience team at The New York Times said that Paul Otlet actually has envisioned, or you could say invented, the Internet in 1934.
Otlet’s vision is not a perfect picture of the Internet as we know it today. However, there are uncanny similarities and the premise is the same.
In the video below, the Belgian’s vision of the world’s knowledge at your fingertips via a screen and a connection to a library is discussed. Here’s a transcript of the video:
“Here, the workspace is no longer cluttered with any books. In their place, a screen and a telephone within reach. Over there, in an immense edifice, are all the books and information. From there, the page to be read in order to know the answer to the question asked by telephone, is made to appear on the screen. The screen could be divided in half, by four, or even by ten if multiple texts and documents had to be consulted simultaneously. There will be loudspeaker if the image had to be complemented by aural data and this improvement could continue to the point of automating the call for onscreen data. Cinema, phonographs, radio, television: these instruments taken as substitute for the book will in fact become the new book, the most powerful works for the diffusion of human thought. This will be the Radiated Library.”
As I said a while ago, the similarities are uncanny. The basic principle of how the internet works is that your browser, or your app, or anything for that matter requests information and databases fulfill those requests and display the information you requested. Sure, people manually requested data by telephone in Otlet’s vision but you can say that that process has just now been automated. In fact, he talked about automating the process of requesting information.
Furthermore, divided screens could be today’s multiple-screened computers or could be opening new tabs and windows of programs.
In addition, the basic premise of connecting to the Internet via a telephone or a TV signal is still there. Otlet also envisioned “the new book” which is what our devices have certainly become.
So there you go, it’s not Al Gore who invented the internet. It was Paul Otlet with his “Radiated Library”. At least that’s what we know by now.
He didn’t foresee, however, that this “New Book” will not only be “the most powerful works for the diffusion of human thought” but will also be the most powerful work for the diffusion of useless, time-consuming and trivial human things.
Image from Marc Wathieu on Flickr (CC)
Source: Huffington Post