The Hut Where the Internet Began
July 8, 2013 5:59 PM   Subscribe

When Douglas Engelbart (previously) read a Vannevar Bush essay on a Philippine island in the aftermath of World War II, he found the conceptual space to imagine what would become our Internet...
posted by jim in austin (7 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I had heard almost all the parts of this story, but never the "hut in the P.I." angle. What a neat dimension. Thanks for continuing to tell old stories, Internet: sometimes there's a nugget of New in there!

My grandpa served in an "ULTRA" radio intercept unit in the Philippines, and through researching his service I learned a lot about crypto. Again, these stories still have a lot to offer, many decades later.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:12 PM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

There are no prophesies; only scripts.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:36 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Last night I was watching this awesome video of Howard Rheingold hosting Ted Nelson and Douglas Engelbart and their wives.

Nelson, as to be expected, is a cynical mofo. Though I can grok where he's coming from, even if I disagree with his motivations.

Engelbart, on the other hand, is so amazing. He's so fascinated with the world, still at that ripe old age. He hits himself on the head when a phrase uttered by Nelson shocks him as if an epiphany had been given to him, and he smiles. He has more faith in humanity, it seems. Even if the current web isn't really what he was fully envisioning, it seems he's satisfied that it's close enough. He has a love of humanity and knowledge that he clearly wants the whole world to grow and fulfill some sort of ... I dunno... destiny? It's really just... awesome.

And yet, so laid back and down to earth and you just feel like you're right there.

I look forward to reading this information about his earlier years.
posted by symbioid at 6:38 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

In Bush's own terms, the complexity of the world and its problems required a better system, lest our memories and minds become overwhelmed by all there was to know. And this was not merely a personal, lifestyle problem. The worst war the world had ever known was finally coming to a close, and to a man like Bush, it had begun because of a lack of human wisdom.

Fascinating. Reminds me of this from Italo Calvino:
Long novels written today are perhaps a contradiction: the dimension of time has been shattered, we cannot love or think except in fragments of time each of which goes off along its own trajectory and immediately disappears. We can rediscover the continuity of time only in the novels of that period when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded, a period that lasted no more than a hundred years.

For Bush, humans were racing against themselves: understand the complex world or face extinction through war.

There's some kind of connection between humanity's giant brain opening wide and swallowing complexity en masse and Calvino's perception of time suddenly exploding.

This whole thing is relevant to my interests because while I work in technology, the only part of it that interests me is the parts that deal with managing complexity for the end user so they can use and digest it so it helps them do what they have to do. It makes me happy to know that this impulse is also at the root of it all.
posted by bleep at 6:39 PM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Weird synchronicity, in the article, Engelbart is stationed in the town of Leyte, which I know is where Imelda Marcos was born, which I know because of jessamyn's comment yesterday:
Mine goes to a thread about a musical collaboration between Fatboy Slim and David Byrne in a project they did about ... Imelda Marcos?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:53 AM on July 7

Which was also odd because I also had the song from that album that mentions Leyte before I saw Jessamyn's comment without even knowing it was about Imelda Marcos.
Cool story bro.
posted by bleep at 6:43 PM on July 8, 2013

Mendel's concept of the laws of genetics was lost to the world for a generation because his publication did not reach the few who were capable of grasping and extending it; and this sort of catastrophe is undoubtedly being repeated all about us, as truly significant attainments become lost in the mass of the inconsequential.

The Internet has created so many new ways to find and share organized information, yet it has also vastly, vastly enlarged the "mass of the inconsequential." Which effect is more powerful? Is it easier or harder to miss something inconspicuous but significant nowadays?
posted by shivohum at 7:23 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Manhattan Project guys wrote a bunch of interesting stuff (I mean obviously, but still) - Bush's essay is great, and so is Flexner's The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge.

Lot of interesting stuff in the book Turing's Cathedral, which collects a lot of this lore in a compact and really readable way.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:14 PM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

« Older Disaster in Lac-Mégantic   |   Banana Wisconsin Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments