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Posts Tagged ‘future

“In the long run we are all dead”*…

 

 

Here Is Today

 

Put it all in (temporal) perspective at “Here Is Today.”

* John Maynard Keynes

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As we ponder the perception of permanence, we might send polymathic birthday greetings to someone who has so far transcended time– the painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, physicist, chemist, anatomist, botanist, geologist, cartographer, and writer– the archetypical Renaissance Man– Leonardo da Vinci.  Quite possibly the greatest genius of the last Millennium, he was born on this date in 1452.

Self-portrait in red chalk, circa 1512-15 [source]

Written by LW

April 15, 2019 at 1:01 am

“It is likely that libraries will carry on and survive, as long as we persist in lending words to the world that surrounds us, and storing them for future readers”*…

 

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Many visions of the future lie buried in the past. One such future was outlined by the American librarian Charles Ammi Cutter in his essay “The Buffalo Public Library in 1983”, written a century before in 1883.

Cutter’s fantasy, at times dry and descriptive, is also wonderfully precise:

The [library], when complete, was to consist of two parts, the first a central store, 150 feet square, a compact mass of shelves and passageways, lighted from the ends, but neither from sides nor top; the second an outer rim of rooms 20 feet wide, lighted from the four streets. In front and rear the rim was to contain special libraries, reading-rooms, and work-rooms; on the sides, the art-galleries. The central portion was a gridiron of stacks, running from front to rear, each stack 2 feet wide, and separated from its neighbor by a passage of 3 feet. Horizontally, the stack was divided by floors into 8 stories, each 8 feet high, giving a little over 7 feet of shelf-room, the highest shelf being so low that no book was beyond the reach of the hand. Each reading-room, 16 feet high, corresponded to two stories of the stack, from which it was separated in winter by glass doors.

The imagined structure allows for a vast accumulation of books:

We have now room for over 500,000 volumes in connection with each of the four reading-rooms, or 4,000,000 for the whole building when completed.

If his vision for Buffalo Public Library might be considered fairly modest from a technological point of view, when casting his net a little wider to consider a future National Library, one which “can afford any luxury”, things get a little more inventive.

[T]hey have an arrangement that brings your book from the shelf to your desk. You have only to touch the keys that correspond to the letters of the book-mark, adding the number of your desk, and the book is taken off the shelf by a pair of nippers and laid in a little car, which immediately finds its way to you. The whole thing is automatic and very ingenious…

But for Buffalo book delivery is a cheaper, simpler, and perhaps less noisy, affair.

…for my part I much prefer our pages with their smart uniforms and noiseless steps. They wear slippers, the passages are all covered with a noiseless and dustless covering, they go the length of the hall in a passage-way screened off from the desk-room so that they are seen only when they leave the stack to cross the hall towards any desk. As that is only 20 feet wide, the interruption to study is nothing.

Cutter’s fantasy might appear fairly mundane, born out of the fairly (stereo)typical neuroses of a librarian: in the prevention of all noise (through the wearing of slippers), the halting of the spread of illness (through good ventilation), and the disorder of the collection (through technological innovations)…

Far from a wild utopian dream, today Cutter’s library of the future appears basic: there will be books and there will be clean air and there will be good lighting. One wonders what Cutter might make of the library today, in which the most basic dream remains perhaps the most radical: for them to remain in our lives, free and open, clean and bright.

More at the original, in Public Domain Review: “The Library of the Future: A Vision of 1983 from 1883.”  Read Cutter’s essay in its original at the Internet Archive.

Pair with “Libraries of the future are going to change in some unexpected ways,” in which IFTF Research Director (and Boing Boing co-founder) David Pescovitz describes a very different future from Cutter’s, and from which the image above was sourced.

* Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night

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As we browse in bliss, we might recall that it was on this date in 1946 that the most famous early computer– the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer)– was dedicated.  The first general-purpose computer (Turing-complete, digital, and capable of being programmed and re-programmed to solve different problems), ENIAC was begun in 1943, as part of the U.S’s war effort (as a classified military project known as “Project PX”); it was conceived and designed by John Mauchly and Presper Eckert of the University of Pennsylvania, where it was built.  The finished machine, composed of 17,468 electronic vacuum tubes, 7,200 crystal diodes, 1,500 relays, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors and around 5 million hand-soldered joints, weighed more than 27 tons and occupied a 30 x 50 foot room– in its time the largest single electronic apparatus in the world.  ENIAC’s basic clock speed was 100,000 cycles per second. Today’s home computers have clock speeds of 1,000,000,000 cycles per second.

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Written by LW

February 16, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Memories, you’re talking about memories”*…

 

blade-runner-still-1-

It’s natural, here at the lip of a new year, to wonder what 2019 might hold.  And it’s bracing to note that Blade Runner (released in 1982) is one of 14 films set in a future that is this, the year on which we’re embarking.

But lest we dwell on the dark prognostication they tend to portray, we might take heart from Jill Lepore’s wonderfully-entertaining review of predictions: “What 2018 looked like fifty years ago” and recent honoree Isaac Asimov’s 1983 response to the Toronto Star‘s request for a look at the world of 2019.

Niels Bohr was surely right when he observed that “prediction is difficult, especially about the future.”

* Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), Blade Runner

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As we contend with the contemporary, we might spend a memorial moment honoring two extraordinary explorers who died on this date.  Marco Polo, whose coda to his remarkable travelogue was “I did not tell half of what I saw,” passed away on this date in 1324.

A page from “Il Milione” (aka” Le Livre des Merveilles” (“The Book of Wonders”)… and in English, “The Travels of Marco Polo”

And Galileo Galilei, the Italian physicist, philosopher, and pioneering astronomer, rose to his beloved heavens on this date in 1642.  Galileo (whom, readers will recall, had his share of trouble with authorities displeased with his challenge to Aristotelean cosmology), died insisting “still, it [the Earth] moves.”

Draft of Galileo’s letter to Leonardo Donato, Doge of Venice, in which he first recorded the movement of the moons of Jupiter– an observation that upset the notion that all celestial bodies must revolve around the Earth.

Written by LW

January 8, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”*…

 

future

Security, transportation, energy, personal “stuff”– the 2018 staff of Popular Mechanics, asked leading engineers and futurists for their visions of future cities, and built a handbook to navigate this new world: “The World of 2045.”

* William Gibson (in The Economist, December 4, 2003)

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As we take the long view, we might spare a thought for Charles Babbage; he died on this date in 1871. A mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer, Babbage is best remembered for originating the concept of a programmable computer. Anxious to eliminate inaccuracies in mathematical tables, he first built a small calculating machine able to compute squares.  He then produced prototypes of portions of a larger Difference Engine. (Georg and Edvard Schuetz later constructed the first working devices to the same design, and found them successful in limited applications.)  In 1833 he began his programmable Analytical Machine (AKA, the Analytical Engine), the forerunner of modern computers, with coding help from Ada Lovelace, who created an algorithm for the Analytical Machine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers— for which she is remembered as the first computer programmer.

Babbage’s other inventions include the cowcatcher, the dynamometer, the standard railroad gauge, uniform postal rates, occulting lights for lighthouses, Greenwich time signals, and the heliograph opthalmoscope.  A true hacker, he was also passionate about cyphers and lock-picking.

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“It is far better to foresee even without certainty than not to foresee at all”*…

 

wired_coder_museum

Humankind is facing unprecedented revolutions, all our old stories are crumbling and no new story has so far emerged to replace them. How can we prepare ourselves and our children for a world of such unprecedented transformations and radical uncertainties? A baby born today will be thirty-something in 2050. If all goes well, that baby will still be around in 2100, and might even be an active citizen of the 22nd century. What should we teach that baby that will help him or her survive and flourish in the world of 2050 or of the 22nd century? What kind of skills will he or she need in order to get a job, understand what is happening around them and navigate the maze of life?…

“As the pace of change increases, the very meaning of being human is likely to mutate and physical and cognitive structures will melt”: “Yuval Noah Harari on what the year 2050 has in store for humankind.”

* Henri Poincare, The Foundations of Science

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As we agree with the Marquis of Halifax that “the best qualification of a prophet is to have a good memory,” we might send insightful birthday greetings to Leo Tolstoy; he was born on this date in 1828 (O.S.; September 9, N.S.).  Widely regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time, he first achieved literary acclaim in his twenties with his semi-autobiographical trilogy, ChildhoodBoyhood, and Youth, and Sevastopol Sketches, based on his experiences in the Crimean War.  But he is surely best remembered for two of his novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, often cited as pinnacles of realist fiction.

220px-L.N.Tolstoy_Prokudin-Gorsky source

 

Written by LW

August 28, 2018 at 1:01 am

“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants”*…

 

From Lapham Quarterly‘s issue on The Future, an excerpt from Meta Stern Lilienthal’s 1916 book Women of the Future

The young maidens of the future, healthy in body and mind, will go forth from educational institutions to perform their life’s work in their chosen trades and professions. Be they cooks or laundresses, weavers or dressmakers, typewriters or telephone operators, teachers or physicians, they will be assured of a decent livelihood and of the wholesome enjoyments of life in return for their services to society. They will be young as few are young today, even among the favored classes. They will work and enjoy themselves and live with an amount of youthful energy and enthusiasm that is rarely met with in our present enfeebled, overworked, poverty-stricken world. The haggard faces, anemic complexions, and drooping shoulders which are so prevalent among the working girls of today that the average city dweller fails to notice them, will disappear like the white plague and other preventable curses of humanity. Bright eyes, ruddy complexions, and straight, strong bodies will be the inalienable rights of youth. We know that health and strength and vigor are not only possible but natural to youth. Young savage women, untouched by the evils of civilization, show it, and the athletic daughters of the propertied classes, spared from the evils of civilization, show it also. The maidens of the future, strong, healthy, active, and educated, will be physically and mentally fit for wifehood and motherhood as not one in a hundred is today. Eventually every Jill will find her Jack, according to individual needs and circumstances, but economic causes will not retard marriages or prevent those who love one another from joining their lives. Jill will not ask, “Can Jack support me?” because she will be fully able to support herself, and Jack will not inquire whether Jill can make good pies—unless pie making be her trade—because he will be able to get all the pies he wants, even better than “mother used to make.” Instead, they will ask themselves seriously, intelligently, questions such as these: “Do we love deeply and truly?”

Springtime for Women

* Coco Chanel

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As we agree with Niels Bohr that “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future,” we might send birthday greetings in the Agrarian tradition to Caroline Ferguson Gordon; she was born on this date in 1895 (so was likely one of those “young maidens” of whom Lilienthal wrote).  A novelist and critic of distinction– while still in her thirties, she won two prestigious literary awards, a 1932 Guggenheim Fellowship and a 1934 O. Henry Award– she was also (with her long-time partner, the poet and critic Allen Tate) the convener of a salon in her Tennessee home that hosted some of the best-known writers of their time, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, T. S. Eliot, Robert Penn Warren, and Ford Madox Ford, the author whom Gordon considered her mentor.  She was herself a mentor to younger writers, perhaps most notably, Walker Percy.

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Written by LW

October 6, 2016 at 1:01 am

“To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all.”*…

 

Douglas Coupland, “Slogans for the 21st Century”

… Evangelical Christians look to the book of Revelations for clues as to what’s to come next; the secular world looks to contemporary art, which seems to operate in a world that has calcified into a self-propagating MFA‑ocracy as orthodox as any extremist religion. But when did making art and foretelling the future become the same thing? What’s the rush? The rush is already coming at us quickly enough. The future of art has to be something that will give us bit of slow. And I hope that it happens quickly…

From an essay by artist and novelist/essayist Douglas Coupland, “What is the Future of Art?

* Pablo Picasso

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As we celebrate, on 3.14.16, both Pi Day and Einstein’s birthday, we might send ontological birthday greetings to Maurice Merleau-Ponty; he was born on this date in 1908.  a phenomenological philosopher who was strongly influenced by Husserl and Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty wrote about perception, art, and politics in the service of understanding the constitution of human experience and meaning.  He served on the editorial board of Sartre’s Les Temps modernes.  His work has been widely influential, from Hubert Dreyfus’s use of Merleau-Ponty’s thought in the seminal What Computers Can’t Do, to the rise of French, then European feminism.  At his death (in 1961) he was working towards an understanding of “Ecophenomenology,” suggesting in notes left behind the need for “a radically transformed understanding of ‘nature'”:  “Do a psychoanalysis of Nature: it is the flesh, the mother… Nature as the other side of humanity (as flesh, nowise as ‘matter’).” 

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Written by LW

March 14, 2016 at 1:01 am

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