January 21, 2008

Jorge Luis Borges Invents the Internet Forty Years before Al Gore!

In the Occasion of Ritual, posted immediately below, Mr Quill refers to an article I sent him from the New York Times, which reports that Borges wrote of several internet-like phenomena in his postmodern science-fictiony short stories from the mid-Twentieth Century,-- like the univeral library & the infinite encyclopedia. I'll post here in full the quotes from Borges juxtaposed by the New York Times. I partially agree with Mr Quill, that the article is bunk - I'm not so sure why Senator George Allen had to be related to a quote from Funes the Memorious. But I think the general notion is notable.

Infinite Encyclopedia

THEN
“Who, singular or plural, invented Tlön? The plural is, I suppose, inevitable, since the hypothesis of a single inventor — some infinite Leibniz working in obscurity and self-effacement — has been unanimously discarded. It is conjectured that this ‘brave new world’ is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebrists, moralists, painters, geometers, ... guided and directed by some shadowy man of genius. There are many men adept in those diverse disciplines, but few capable of imagination — fewer still capable of subordinating imagination to a rigorous and systematic plan. The plan is so vast that the contribution of each writer is infinitesimal.”

-“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (1940)

NOW
Wikipedia
, the online encyclopedia project that began in 2001, now has a total of more than nine million articles in more 250 languages. There are more than 75,000 “active contributors,” many of whom remain anonymous. As it grows and becomes ever more influential, its operating logic remains a mystery. A favored saying among Wikipedia’s contributors is: “The problem with Wikipedia is that it only works in practice. In theory, it can never work.”

Life Is Like A Blog

THEN
“Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day; he had never once erred or faltered, but each reconstruction had itself taken an entire day. ‘I, myself, alone, have more memories than all mankind since the world began,’ he said to me. ... And again, toward dawn: My memory, sir, is like a garbage heap.”

-“Funes” (1942)

NOW
The path from diary to blog to the frequently updated “microblog” has now descended to “life-logging.” Not content merely to record their thoughts or even daily activities, life-loggers record and preserve everything they see, hear, say and read during the day. The world-recognized early adopter is Gordon Bell, a 73-year-old computer programmer who wears an audio recorder as well as a tiny camera that snaps a picture every 60 seconds. A 2006 profile in Fast Company described Mr. Bell as at one time being “worried about filling up his hard-drive space too quickly.” He adds a gigabyte of information a month and figures that an average 72-year-old person would require one to three terabytes, “a hefty amount of storage.”

Nothing Is Forgotten

THEN
“I was struck by the thought that every word I spoke, every expression of my face or motion of my hand would endure in his implacable memory; I was rendered clumsy by the fear of making pointless gestures.”

-“Funes” (1942)

NOW
There once was a time when a poet could assert that “the revolution will not be televised.” But today, of course, even a politician’s informal meet-and-greet will be recorded for posterity. Senator George Allen of Virginia learned this in 2006 when a tape of him calling his opponent’s videographer a “macaca,” a racially tinged epithet, spread like a virus across the state and, soon, the world. He lost his re-election bid.

Universal Library

THEN
“From those incontrovertible premises, the librarian deduced that the Library is ‘total’ ... that is, all that is able to be expressed, in every language. ... When it was announced that the Library contained all books, the first reaction was unbounded joy. All men felt themselves the possessors of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal problem, no world problem, whose eloquent solution did not exist.”

-“The Library of Babel” (1941)

NOW
In announcing that an ambitious international project to digitize universities’ book collections had passed the 1.5 million mark, one of its organizers, Raj Reddy, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, proclaimed in November: “This project brings us closer to the ideal of the Universal Library: making all published works available to anyone, anytime, in any language.” To others, the Internet itself is the Universal Library, where readers can search for recipes, medical treatments, barroom trivia or perhaps even Google themselves.


I also recommend this article from the February 5th, 2007, New Yorker, about Google's Quest for the Universal Library: Google's Moon Shot by Jeffrey Toobin.

And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.
-Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AL), responsible for regulating the internet,
discussing the Net Neutrality Act

4 comments:

grainne proinseas said...

did borges say anything about internet addiction? it's a really serious problem, you know. I wonder if anybody has ever been diagnosed with an addiction to real physical libraries the way people are addicted to googling random shit and themselves, repeatedly, and looking at the place they are currently located in which they are fucking their pute and indulging their internet addiction on google earth.

ß&dragon said...

Funes the Memorious's response to having a complete memory was the opposite, he hid in his bed with the lights off. Well, I guess, that's sort of like what my brother does on the internet all night, sleeping thru the day.

ß&dragon said...

What does "fucking their pute" mean?

grainne proinseas said...

I forgot I can't use east coast slang on this blog.
I mean, um...it's obvious what it means. I refuse to humor you, seamus o'funnypants.