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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Vulcanic spring and its build-up period

Revolutions are often not what they seem. Cultural spring May arrive with a bang, but it always depends on a lot of work being done underground during previous ‘seasons’. Spring can only arrive because of the previous reflective winterperiod. And it’s interesting to discover the lines throughout history. Earlier I wrote about the cultural spring during the late sixties, which during the start based itself on efforts of the Beat generation during the fifties and the ‘somewhat boring’ cultural winter from 1960-1965. I’ve been reading about the nineties lately (luckily the Americans DO write about recent history). In 1989 we saw the emergence of a new cultural spring, with lots of youth activity (housemusic, raves, XTC), but also the rise of commercial television, mobile life and the first start-ups that predicted the internet-revolution. Economic data credit the internet with generating more than a third of America’s growth between 1995 and 1998. But was it a revolution? Not if you read Haynes Johnson’s book ‘The Best of Times’:
“Fables not withstanding, the Internet isn’t new., nor did the technological advances that made possible the prosperity of the Nineties suddenly spring to life in places like Silicon Valley. Both were created by government sponsored work carried out at immense cost over many decades.”

A scientist, Vannevar Bush, convinced president Truman at the end of the second World War to heavily invest in basic science and to stop depending on the import of European knowledge. In his paper, Bush already describes a ‘Memex’, a ‘small box with a slanting translucent screen, at the end of your desk’ that would allow mankind to profit from the inherited knowledge of the ages. More than half a century later, IBM decribed his article as a ‘time-bomb essay’. So far ahead of its time that it takes decades to recognize its genius. J. Licklider, another scientist ahead of his time, quotes Bush as his main inspiration. In an article during the reflective winterperiod of 1960-1965, Licklider describes how computers will connect and form ‘interactive networks’ of ‘on-line communities’. He even predicts ‘electronic pointer controllers called ‘mice’’. Another time-bomb essay that didn’t attract much attention, outside of government institutions. Which kept investing, making it possible for Netscape-creator Marc Andreessen to run with the knowledge from a protected and sponsored university and become a billionaire by commercializing the ‘browser’ technology in 1994. That’s what happens. Knowledge slumbers, slowly building up explosive power, like a vulcano. It takes the right cultural framework and a few smart people understanding the times to detonate a cultural bomb. Spring is vulcano time.

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