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World Brain: The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia is the title of a book of essays by English author H.G. Wells, as well as an article published as part of the Encyclopédie française in August 1937. Some of the essays were first presented as speeches in 1937. In several instances throughout the book, Wells presents his idea of a universal, evolving encyclopedia that would help people become better informed citizens of the world.

The essay "The Brain Organization of the Modern World" lays out Wells's vision for "...a sort of mental clearing house for the mind, a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared."[1] Wells felt that technological advances such as microfilm could be used towards this end so that "any student, in any part of the world, will be able to sit with his projector in his own study at his or her convenience to examine any book, any document, in an exact replica."[2] A similar view of an automated system for making all of humanity's knowledge available to all had been proposed a few years earlier by Paul Otlet, one of the founders of information science.[3]

History

The drive for an “information highway” was first expressed in 1937 by H.G. Wells, who argued that encyclopedias of the past had suited only the needs of an elite minority[4]. They were written “for gentleman by gentleman,” in an era where the notion of universal education had not even been conceptualized. In his essay titled, “The World Brain: The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopedia,” Wells explains how then-current encyclopedias failed to adapt to both the growing increase in recorded knowledge and the expansion of people requiring information that was accurate and readily accessible. He asserted that these 19th century encyclopedias continued to follow the 18th century pattern, organization and scale. “Our contemporary encyclopedias are still in the coach-and-horse phase of development,” he argued, “rather than in the phase of the automobile and the aeroplane.”[5]

Wells saw the potential for world-altering impacts this technology could bring. He felt that the creation of the encyclopedia could bring about the peaceful days of the past, “with a common understanding and the conception of a common purpose, and of a commonwealth such as now we hardly dream of.”[6]

Some media scholars, such as Brian R. Gaines in his "Convergence to the Information Highway", see the web as an extended "world brain" that individuals can access using personal computers.[7]

The essays in World Brain propose a system for synthesizing and coordinating the world's knowledge; the Internet lacks such coordination. As he writes, the World Encyclopedia "would not be a miscellany, but a concentration, a clarification and a synthesis".[8]

Notes

  1. ^ Wells(1938) p. 49
  2. ^ Wells(1938) p. 54
  3. ^ illinois.edu (see Footnote 11 & Refs) "Otlet believed that Radio, x-rays, cinema and microscopic photography would all eventually be brought together in such a way to form 'a mechanical, collective brain' (Otlet, 1935, pp.390-1), a kind of 'exodermic appendage to the brain', 'a substratum of memory,' 'an external mechanism and instrument of the mind' (Otlet 1934, p. 428; also Rayward, 1975, 1994b, 1997)."
  4. ^ "The World Brain". Excerpts from Brian R. Gaines, "Convergence to the Information Highway" (1996)
  5. ^ Wells(1938)
  6. ^ "The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia". Contribution by H. G. Wells to the new Encyclopédie Française, August, 1937
  7. ^ Gaines, Brian R. (1996). "Convergence to the Information Highway". Proceedings of the WebNet Conference. San Francisco. http://algo.informatik.uni-freiburg.de/bibliothek/proceedings/webnet96/Html/KGaines/Gaines.htm. Retrieved 7 November 2009.  
  8. ^ Wells(1938) p20

References

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