The internet and Tolstoy’s vision of history by Andy Yee

In government, history, information science, media, politics, society on January 19, 2013 at 00:04

From: The internet and Tolstoy’s vision of history by Andy Yee, openDemocracy,

The digital age brings with it the promise of micro observation and indefinite memory. This will bring about a different approach to history – similar to what Tolstoy described one and a half century ago.

In his epic novel War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy sets out his vision of history. Drawing on the analogy of integration in mathematical calculus, Tolstoy believes historians’ use of discrete events and distinguished personalities to represent the continuous flow of history is doomed to fail. The ocean of individual actions that shape the course of history leaves no place for grand leaders like Napoleon. History must travel down the road exact sciences must take: only by entering the process of the integration of infinitely small quantities – the innumerable arbitrary human wills in the case of history – can we hope to arrive at the laws governing history itself.

With successive generations of technological advance, we have moved from a world in which history exists in perishable documents and objects to a world in which information can be stored permanently. In the 1930s and 40s, the microfilm stirred the imagination of visionaries such as H.G. Wells and Vannevar Bush. The Wellsian world brain envisions an efficient index to all human knowledge, ideas and achievements, that is, a complete planetary memory for all mankind. Bush predicted that new forms of encyclopaedias, with a memex structure similar to today’s World Wide Web, would perfect man’s command over the inherited knowledge of the ages.

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Reposted with permission from: openDemocracy


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