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WorldBrain: The Idea of a Permanent WorldEncyclopedia
The Internet circa 1937
Sixty Minutes in theSearch for the 'Net Meaning of Art
Tripping in a digital Skoda
Familiarize yourself with a good meme

. . .

WorldBrain: The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopedia

H.G. Wells
(a contribution to the new EncyclopédieFrançaise, August, 1937)

It is probable that the idea of an encyclopedia mayundergo very considerable extension and elaboration in thenear future. Its full possibilities have still to berealized. The encyclopedias of the past have sufficed forthe needs of a cultivated minority. They were written "forgentlemen by gentlemen" in a world wherein universaleducation was unthought of, and where the institutions ofmodern democracy with universal suffrage, so necessary inmany respects, so difficult and dangerous in their working,had still to appear. Throughout the nineteenth centuryencyclopedias followed the eighteenth-century scale andpattern, in spite both of a gigantic increase in recordedknowledge and of a still more gigantic growth in the numbersof human beings requiring accurate and easily accessibleinformation. At first this disproportion was scarcely noted,and its consequences not at all. But many people now arecoming to recognize that our contemporary encyclopedias arestill in the coach-and-horses phase of development, ratherthan in the phase of the automobile and the airplane.Encyclopedic enterprise has not kept pace with materialprogress. These observers realize that modern facilities oftransport, radio, photographic reproduction and so forth arerendering practicable a much more fully succinct andaccessible assembly of fact and ideas than was ever possiblebefore.

Concurrently with these realizations there is a growingdiscontent with the part played by the universities, schoolsand libraries in the intellectual life of mankind.Universities multiply, schools of every grade and typeincrease, but they do not enlarge their scope to anythinglike the urgent demands of this troubled and dangerous age.They do not perform the task nor exercise the authority thatmight reasonably be attributed to the thought and knowledgeorganization of the world. It is not, as it should be, acase of larger and more powerful universities co-operatingmore and more intimately, but of many more universities ofthe old type, mostly ill-endowed and uncertainly endowed,keeping at the old educational level.

Both the assembling and the distribution of knowledge inthe world at present are extremely ineffective, and thinkersof the forward-looking type whose ideas we are nowconsidering, are beginning to realize that the most hopefulline for the development of our racial intelligence liesrather in the direction of creating a new world organ forthe collection, indexing, summarizing and release ofknowledge, than in any further tinkering with the highlyconservative and resistant university system, local,national and traditional in texture, which already exists.These innovators, who may be dreamers today, but who hope tobecome very active organizers tomorrow, project a unified,if not a centralized, world organ to "pull the mind of theworld together," which will be not so much a rival to theuniversities, as a supplementary and co-ordinating additionto their educational activities - on a planetary scale.

The phrase "Permanent World Encyclopedia" conveys thegist of these ideas. As the core of such an institutionwould be a world synthesis of bibliography and documentationwith the indexed archives of the world. A great number ofworkers would be engaged perpetually in perfecting thisindex of human knowledge and keeping it up to date.Concurrently, the resources of micro-photography, as yetonly in their infancy, will be creating a concentratedvisual record.

Few people as yet, outside the world of expert librariansand museum curators and so forth, know how manageablewell-ordered facts can be made, however multitudinous, andhow swiftly and completely even the rarest visions and themost recondite matters can be recalled, once they have beenput in place in a well-ordered scheme of reference andreproduction. The American microfilm experts, even now, aremaking facsimiles of the rarest books, manuscripts, picturesand specimens, which can then be made easily accessible uponthe library screen. By means of the microfilm, the rarestand most intricate documents and articles can be studied nowat first hand, simultaneously in a score of projectionrooms. There is no practical obstacle whatever now to thecreation of an efficient index to all  human knowledge,ideas and achievements, to the creation, that is, of acomplete planetary memory for all mankind. And not simply anindex; the direct reproduction of the thing itself can besummoned to any properly prepared spot. A microfilm, coloredwhere necessary, occupying an inch or so of space andweighing little more than a letter, can be duplicated fromthe records and sent anywhere, and thrown enlarged upon thescreen so that the student may study it in every detail.

This in itself is a fact of tremendous significance. Itforeshadows a real intellectual unification of our race. Thewhole human memory can be, and probably in a short time willbe, made accessible to every individual. And what is also ofvery great importance in this uncertain world wheredestruction becomes continually more frequent andunpredictable, is this, that photography affords now everyfacility for multiplying duplicates of this - which we maycall? - this new all-human cerebrum. It need not beconcentrated in any one single place. It need not bevulnerable as a human head or a human heart is vulnerable.It can be reproduced exactly and fully, in Peru, China,Iceland, Central Africa, or wherever else seems to afford aninsurance against danger and interruption. It can have atonce, the concentration of a craniate animal and thediffused vitality of an amoeba.

This is no remote dream, no fantasy. It is a plainstatement of a contemporary state of affairs. It is on thelevel of practicable fact. It is a matter of such manifestimportance and desirability for science, for the practicalneeds of mankind, for general education and the like, thatit is difficult not to believe that in quite the nearfuture, this Permanent World Encyclopedia, so compact in itsmaterial form and so gigantic in its scope and possibleinfluence, will not come into existence.

Its uses will be multiple and many of them will be fairlyobvious. Special sections of it, historical, technical,scientific, artistic, e.g. will easily be reproduced forspecific professional use. Based upon it, a series ofsummaries of greater or less fullness and simplicity, forthe homes and studies of ordinary people, for the collegeand the school, can be continually issued and revised. Inthe hands of competent editors, educational directors andteachers, these condensations and abstracts incorporated inthe world educational system, will supply the humanity ofthe days before us, with a common understanding and theconception of a common purpose and of a commonweal such asnow we hardly dare dream of. And its creation is a way toworld peace that can be followed without any very grave riskof collision with the warring political forces and thevested institutional interests of today. Quietly and sanelythis new encyclopedia will, not so much overcome thesearchaic discords, as deprive them, steadily butimperceptibly, of their present reality. A common ideologybased on this Permanent World Encyclopedia is a possiblemeans, to some it seems the only means, of dissolving humanconflict into unity.

This concisely is the sober, practical but essentiallycolossal objective of those who are seeking to synthesizehuman mentality today, through this natural and reasonabledevelopment of encyclopedism into a Permanent WorldEncyclopaedia.

. . .

SixtyMinutes in the Search for the 'Net Meaning of Art

Simon Herbert

At a recent conference I was asked to address thequestion "Is the Internet a valuable resource for artsorganizations?"

As questions go this is undoubtedly a sensible one,although like many sensible questions the answer is fairlytransparent, as it would be in examples such as "Is thephone a valuable resource for arts organizations?" or "Wouldyour job be made easier if you never had to receive anotherunsolicited proposal by an artist who wishes to make analprints?"

(The answer is "yes.")

When I was first asked to speak on this subject myintention was not to come to honor the Internet but to buryit, a task which has become much harder given my recentexperiences as codirector (with my colleague Jon Bewley) ofLocus+.

We work with the artist Stefan Gec. Stefan is anEnglishman whose father came from the Ukraine, and for manyyears he has produced works which examine geo-social linksbetween the two countries. For his 1990 piece "TraceElements," Stefan cast large bells using melted scrap metalfrom decommissioned Soviet submarines. He then attached thebells to a wooden structure on the River Tyne. As the tiderose, the bells rang furiously before being swallowed by thewater and becoming once again submerged. The analogy was oneof swords into plowshares, with a slightly ominous sense offoreboding that such a process can always be reversed.

We are currently working on a new project with Stefanentitled "Buoy," which will see the bells themselves beingmelted down and recast into a fully working navigationalbuoy. With the assistance of the International Associationof Lighthouse Authorities, this buoy will be toured to portsin the UK before traveling further afield to ports ofEastern Europe, routes once taken by the Soviet submarines.The actual physical object of the buoy will not beaccessible to the public, as it will be located in eachdestination far out to sea. Contact with the work will bemade via the Internet.

For me, "Buoy" constitutes an ideal melding of formats,of the possibilities for interchange between the traditionalart object and the new technology. I should emphasize,however, that this project did not start out as "Wouldn't itbe great to do a project for the Internet?" Rather, theInternet has proved to be a valuable and, most importantly,appropriate tool which contributes to the overall coda ofthe artist. It remains, under the conditions of thisproject, discrete.

In this respect, it is relatively easy for me to identifythe merits of such technology, yet I remain unconvinced ofother distinctions which we should bring to it. This uneaseis a mixture of a number of things: part ignorance, partlaziness, part Luddite, part of that peculiar characteristicof the English which makes us treat everything fun--evensex--as some sort of threat.

In addition--and this may sound surprising coming fromsomeone who has spent many years working within the visualart structure--I have little faith in artists. TheodoreSturgeon's Law that 90 percent of everything is shit canstill be applied to the majority of cultural activitywithout the slightest blush. There are, of course, manycapable and extraordinarily talented artists in the world,working in many different contexts, yet I remain deeplyapathetic to the claims which the profession as a wholemakes for itself. This is not a criticism, merely anacknowledgment that the fervor which artists must possess inorder to create work in the world must of necessity lead toa certain amount of blind self-belief and evangelicalblinkering.

In short, this leads to a phenomenon in which each time anew development comes along to change the face of the worldas we know it artists and arts organizations are drivenlemming-like into new alleyways of endeavor. They aremotivated to varying degrees by a voracious appetite forknowledge, by a hunger for new contexts for art production,and by not wanting to be left out of the party.

This fascination can often be manifest as a sincerebelief that by merely engaging with the tools of technologyone automatically endows a project with the full grandiosepomp of the system within which it exists. This is, sadly,not often the case.

To put it another way, a lone 16 inch Trinitron on aplinth in a gallery showing a tape of a thirty second slowzoom into a light bulb in the artist's flat does not aradical work make, even if someone did have to put someelectrical juice into the damned thing to make it work. Ifit did achieve such status, it would be presented in lowlight next to Turner's "The Fighting Temeraine" with adeeply stressed museum guard watching anxiously that youdidn't approach too close to the fast forward button.

Not everything with a plug on it means the same thing forart projects. The Internet is vastly different in the way itoffers access to artists than, say, television.

I decided to carry out a small experiment and see what amere sixty minutes of net time could offer me in findingsome good art, or at least some clues as to what art is, orwas from three o'clock to four o'clock yesterday afternoon.I turned on the ansaphone, configged me PPP, tapped in theword "Art" on the search engines of Netscape.

The initial search, which took approximately two minutes,yielded a list of one hundred possible jumping on sites. Myfirst response that there may be a lot about art on the net,but very little of it is actually art in itself. A quickscanning of the first names proffered a thicket of juicynodes such as "The Flatlining of U.S. Cultural Policy" or"Congressional Record - In Support of Federal Funding."

Doubtless the information contained within these siteswould make the professional art curator or fundraisersalivate with the desire to be in at ground level with thecut and thrust of art politics, yet there was little tointerest artists looking for actual work, let alone thecasual punter taking a break from a porn search under theepithet "beaver" in favor of things more wholesomelyaesthetic.

I decided therefore, fifteen minutes into my cyber-time,to opt out of the main search list by way of investigatingmore obviously interesting sites and following a new andconvoluted trail. This was difficult at first, especially as"Art" had yielded such diverse offerings as "Rec: MartialArts", and, for some unknown reason, the "Tazmania EpisodeGuide." Resisting the temptation to learn a new preyingmantis kick, or who was the cel artist for Taz'sbuddy "Wally" (which I may someday regret, as you can nevertell in my line of work just when such information may comein useful), I entered Arts Wire, a national U.S. networkdatabase. This proved a smarter move, as Arts Wire offered adiverse range of discussion groups on issues ofmulticulturalism, community art and self-help artisticendeavor.

Nevertheless, for the sake of this experiment I had toremember that art was my preferred destination, not thechance to network with like-minded curators and organizers,so it was with regret that I backed out of a considerationof mural techniques and instead delved into the "ArtsSection of the Virtual Library of the Buzzard's Nest."

This proved to be a wise move. A much longer andobviously idiosyncratic list appeared. By the way, you canalways spot a more idiosyncratic list when the sites areaccompanied by text such as "Copyright Dave 'Woofer Bow Wow'Jones."

I entered into "What's New @ Art On The Net!," excited atthe prospect of this particular site ending in anexclamation mark which surely signified a degree ofenthusiasm that I had not previously come across. The mainmenu on this site indicated that three artists a monthshowed a selection of their works. At last, somethingvisual. Danny Connant presented a number of black and whiteand color nude photographs, both male and female, printed ongauze which had been folded to distort the models' sinuouscurves. Paintings by Stephen Linsteadt consisted of colorfield abstractions based upon the theme of passion fruit,the odd fruit bowl appearing foregrounded on a bed ofswirling purple and yellow.

This was more like it.

Disappointment was to follow, though, with "ArtisticRepresentations in Virtual Reality." The title had led me toexpect a pictorial array of the greatest and grandestincursions to date in this field, yet it merely consisted ofa massive bibliography of books on the subject. As I scannedthe list of books, I realized that this was virtual art in away, as it was somehow there in front of me but I couldn'tactually see it. The heading "Transactions of theInformation Processing Society" gave me a sense of unnervingdread for some reason, so I exited hot foot.

I set off again with only twenty minutes left. "WFC ArtGallery" promised the chance of further visualgratification, surely. Upon entering the "Visitors Center"of the WFC I was given the choice of going into the gallerydirect or stopping off at the gift shop. As any good artcurator knows, galleries make money nowadays from theirfranchise operations, such as the tiny restaurants repletewith mung-bean salads, and the souvenir items ofpre-Raphaelite key rings, so I entered via the gift shop ina gesture of pan-global solidarity. I was offered a WFCcoffee mug at a snip for eight dollars; I could have chosenthe deluxe version for a piffling twelve bucks.

I chose neither and entered into the gallery proper. Asit turned out, the gallery was devoted to comic book artimages. Firmly engaging with the counter-culture seemed tobe the way to go, so I picked out the most doom-laden texttopic I could--"What Will the Future Hold/"--imagining Iwould download an aggressively cross-hatched vista ofburning buildings, starving children being gnawed upon bybulbous brained invaders from another planet and aradioactive smog encircling the horizon.

What I received was an indication that the future is yetto happen, surprisingly, as all that was downloaded was ablack field with the words "Exhibit Under Construction."

A number of other sites were not available for a numberof reasons, forcing me to delve more hurriedly into otherfiles. It was at this point that I suddenly realized thatmost of the promotional literature which heralds theInternet consists of multi-colored vectoral lines encirclingthe planet, glowing pathways down which one can surf,hanging ten in the White House, shooting the tube in Japan.As one site crashed after another, denying me access by dintof "DNS Server Not Answering," it seemed to me that a moreappropriate promotional image would not be a surfboard but aSkoda, banging and wheezing around country lanes, crashingagainst roadblocks, having to reverse without the benefit ofpower steering and nip into the next blind alley, cascadingan exhaust stream of failed and toxic anticipation.

It was in this state that I was even refused entry intothe Sistine Chapel. Deciding that not even God was on myside, and that the sum total of the visual cornucopia that Ihad envisaged had manifested itself as a couple of barebuttocks and some sub-Miroesque plums, I raced back to myexit point, hard closing at 59 minutes and 12 seconds.

If truth be told, the experiment that I had set hadhopelessly loaded the dice against the possibility ofexperiencing an artistic epiphany. If truth again be told, Iam still a relative novice on the net, and I am sure thatmost people reading this are far more knowledgeable thanmyself on tracking down the riches that it can undoubtedlyyield. Especially if you have longer than an hour.

Nevertheless, as a microcosmic experience of the Internetthe experiment yielded a number of significant points.Perhaps the most important one--especially for artists andarts organizations--is that the reality of engaging with thenet is far removed from the way we would like to envisageit. Of course, developments in the technology will radicallyimprove access, and increased bandwidth will not always makeus cringe when we realize how long we will have to wait todownload any image bigger than a postage stamp.

Yet this is merely a case of efficiency, a momentum whichhas previously produced easier to program VCRs and moreuser-friendly fax machines. The Internet is here inprinciple, in all its protean glory, regardless of howtraumatic it can be to deal with it in its infancy.

The lesson that artists and arts organizations shouldlearn is rooted in how we have traditionally dealt withother mechanisms which have shrunk the globe. This is wheremy faith in artists becomes shaky again, because an artist'smodus operandi has always been to convert any system for thepromulgation of their creativity into a metaphor. And, truthto tell, the metaphor just don't care. This is regardless ofwhether an individual artist's sensibility veers towards theDystopian or the Utopian.

The type of artists that Locus+ works with cannotnecessarily be polarized into one or the other, yet even acursory examination of twentieth century art points out thatthose artists who wish to become socially relevantinvariably do so not by painting water lilies but bygrasping the nettle, so to speak, of the big issues which weface.

In 1916 in Zurich, the Dadaists staged events which actedas a manifesto that served notice that the world order washopelessly corrupt, that the advent of industrializationwhich had promised to liberate mankind from the work ethichad merely produced the means to stage the first world war.The Dadaists' response was to produce work aimed atoutraging the bourgeoisie.

The work was of its time, and does not travel wellthrough the bumpy years of the twentieth century. Yet Icannot help but feel that the nonsense poetry of DadaistHugo Ball, shouted in order to drown out the sound of thecannons, has a strange relevance for us now as we stand atyet another crossroads. His nonsense poetry ...

gadji beri bimba
glandridi lauli lonni cadori
gadjama bim beri glassala
glandridi glassala tuffm i zimbrabim
blassa galassasa tuffm i zimbrabim

... can find echoes in the cadences of http colonslash slash dash dot @ dot org dot and the array of epiphetswhich permeate the net today. Many of the sites I looked atwere already carrying advertising, which is a sign to theHugo Balls of this era that the forces of capitalism werenot in the slightest affected by his gibberish. Neither willthey be affected, I suspect, by the savage beauty of avirtual three dimensional cone lit from above in anelectronic gallery, or the counter-cultural cock a snookingof those peddling images and creeds designed to shock andoutrage. Use of the net in this respect does not differgreatly from the Mail Art projects undertaken by the Fluxusartists of the sixties and seventies.

All of this points to the fact that artists shouldpositively engage with the Internet; to ignore it or toattempt just to subvert or destroy it does not really cutthe mustard if one is prepared to reject the clichéof the romantic rebel and replace this with a moremeaningful role. And finally, we shouldn't expect theInternet to be anything more than it already patently is: areflection of just how very clever we can be.

. . .


(research by GregoryTaylor; Oblique Strategies © 1975, 1978, 1979 BrianEno and Peter Schmidt)

Oblique Strategies is a collection ideas ofconceived by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. ObliqueStrategies began life as a limited edition of 500 decksof cards in 1975, they were reprinted in 1978 and 1979. (Thesubsequent editions differed slightly from the original,always an effective way of unlimiting an edition.)

Peter Schmidt died in 1980; the cards have never beenreprinted. Healthy memes don't vanish; the text has traveledwell across the decades and the Internet. We're onlyreprinting the text of the first edition. Researchers andscholars (or, more likely, Brian Eno's legion of admirers)can find more information than one might ever need at otherwell-indexed Internet sites.

Oblique Strategies

Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities

Don't be frightened of cliches

What is the reality of the situation?

Are there sections? Consider transitions

Turn it upside down

Think of the radio

Allow an easement (an easement is the abandonment of astricture)

Simple subtraction

Go slowly all the way round the outside

A line has two sides

Make an exhaustive list of everything you might do and dothe last thing on the list

Into the impossible

Ask people to work against their better judgement

Take away the elements in order of apparentnon-importance

Infinitesimal gradations

Change instrument roles


Disconnect from desire

Emphasize repetitions

Don't be afraid of things because they're easy to do

Don't be frightened to display your talents

Breathe more deeply

Honor thy error as a hidden intention

Only one element of each kind

Is there something missing?

Use 'unqualified' people

How would you have done it?

Emphasize differences

Do nothing for as long as possible

Bridges -build -burn

You don't have to be ashamed of using your own ideas

Tidy up

Do the words need changing?

Ask your body


Make a sudden, destructive unpredictable action;incorporate

Consult other sources -promising -unpromising

Use an unacceptable color

Humanize something free of error

Use filters

Fill every beat with something

Discard an axiom

What wouldn't you do?

Decorate, decorate

Balance the consistency principle with the inconsistencyprinciple

Listen to the quiet voice

Is it finished?

Put in earplugs

Give the game away

Abandon normal instruments

Use fewer notes

Repetition is a form of change

Give way to your worst impulse


Trust in the you of now

What would your closest friend do?

Distorting time

Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisiteframe

[blank white card]

Ghost echoes

You can only make one dot at a time

Just carry on

(Organic) machinery

The inconsistency principle

Don't break the silence

Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them



What mistakes did you make last time?

Consider different fading systems

Mute and continue

It is quite possible (after all)

Don't stress one thing more than another

You are an engineer

Remove ambiguities and convert to specifics

Look at the order in which you do things

Go outside. Shut the door.

Do we need holes?

Cluster analysis

Do something boring

Define an area as 'safe' and use it as an anchor

Overtly resist change

Accept advice

Work at a different speed

Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplifythem

Mechanicalize something idiosyncratic

Emphasize the flaws

Remember .those quiet evenings

Take a break

Short circuit (example; a man eating peas with the ideathat they will improve his virility shovels them straightinto his lap)

Use an old idea

Destroy -nothing -the most important thing

Change nothing and continue with immaculateconsistency

The tape is now the music

The popularity of Oblique Strategies may in partbe attributed to artists' fear of running out of ideas. Inclosing then, a few words by Robert Pirsig in praise of deadends:

"What's really been getting you stuck is therunning from the stuckness through cars of your train ofknowledge looking for a solution that is out in front ofthe train. Stuckness shouldn't be avoided. It's thepsychic predecessor of all real understanding."
. . .
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