a distance…


Everything in the universe, and everything of man, would be registered at a distance as it was produced. In this way a moving image of the world will be established, a true mirror of his memory.
From a distance, everyone will be able to read text, enlarged and limited to the desired subject, projected on an individual screen. In this way, everyone from his armchair will be able to contemplate creation, as a whole or in certain of its parts. – Paul Otlet (
published in “Monde” 1934)

Lesson / Koan : Mental catalogues should be made into physical catalogues.

Paul Otlet, (1868-1944) a Belgian Utopian still little known in America.

Otlet invented an international classification scheme called Universal Decimal Classification used for books, photographs and other documents. He invented microfilm. He invented the ubiquitous index card catalog used in most libraries.

Otlet outlined these grand visions of easily accessible knowledge and interconnected data many decades before Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson first articulated them. And more importantly, he actually built an analog hypertext system. As this really amazing film makes clear, he collected and cataloged as much of the world’s bibliographic knowledge as he could and then cross-indexed it. Rows and rows of card trays. At his peak he had 17 million index cards, and a system of search and retrieval.

The telegraph room at the original Mundaneum in Brussels.

The way information is organised and presented is influential for the way we perceive and understand the world. The Mundaneum is the result of the utopian project by Paul Otlet to foster universal knowledge distribution and pacifism.

BTW,

In 1934, Paul Otlet envisioned a new kind of scholar’s workstation: a moving desk shaped like a wheel, powered by a network of hinged spokes beneath a series of moving surfaces. The machine would let users search, read and write their way through a vast mechanical database stored on millions of 3×5 index cards. This new research environment would do more than just let users retrieve documents; it would also let them annotate the relationships between one another, “the connections each [document] has with all other [documents], forming from them what might be called the Universal Book.

Otlet imagined a day when users would access the database from great distances by means of an “electric telescope” connected through a telephone line, retrieving a facsimile image to be projected remotely on a flat screen. In Otlet’s time, this notion of networked documents was still so novel that no one had a word to describe these relationships, until he invented one: “links.” Otlet envisioned the whole endeavor as a great “réseau”—which might be translated as “network” — or arguably, “web.”

Otlet’s version of hypertext held a few important advantages over today’s Web. For one thing, he saw a smarter kind of hyperlink. Whereas links on the Web today serve as a kind of mute bond between documents, Otlet envisioned links that carried meaning by, for example, annotating if particular documents agreed or disagreed with each other. That facility is notably lacking in the dumb logic of modern hyperlinks.

More than half a century before Tim Berners-Lee released the first Web browser in 1991, Otlet (pronounced ot-LAY) described a networked world where “anyone in his armchair would be able to contemplate the whole of creation.”

NOTE :

After Otlet’s death in 1944, what survived of the original Mundaneum was left to languish in an old anatomy building of the Free University in the Parc Leopold until 1968, when a young graduate student named W. Boyd Rayward picked up the paper trail. Having read some of Otlet’s work, he traveled to the abandoned office in Brussels, where he discovered a mausoleumlike room full of books and mounds of paper covered in cobwebs.

Mr. Rayward has since helped lead a resurgence of interest in Otlet’s work, a movement that eventually fueled enough interest to prompt development of the Mundaneum museum in Mons.

Today, the new Mundaneum reveals tantalizing glimpses of a Web that might have been. Long rows of catalog drawers hold millions of Otlet’s index cards, pointing the way into a back-room archive brimming with books, posters, photos, newspaper clippings and all kinds of other artifacts. A team of full-time archivists have managed to catalog less than 10 percent of the collection.

 

 

 

 

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