Dark Matter and Trailblazers - @mpedson and Vannevar Bush

From Dark Matter
The dark matter of the Internet is open, social, peer-to-peer and read/write—and it’s the future of museums
Michael Peter Edson

“Despite the best efforts of some of our most visionary and talented colleagues, we’ve been building, investing, and focusing on only a small part of what the Internet can do to help us accomplish our missions.

90% of the universe is made of dark matter—hard to see, but so forceful that it seems to move every star, planet, and galaxy in the cosmos.

And 90% of the Internet made up of dark matter too—hard for institutions to see, but so forceful that it moves individuals, communities, and humanity in beautiful and powerful ways…

And it’s not necessarily that the glass of museum, library, and archive technology projects is half empty, as opposed to half full; it’s the fact that the glass of the Internet and the dark matter of open, social, read/write cultural engagement is so much bigger than museums, libraries, and archives are accustomed to seeing and thinking about. And the glass keeps growing at exponential speed, whether we fill it with good work or wait in committee meetings for the water to pour itself…

In the 1990s, researchers from the Urban Institute conducted a study of arts and culture participation in underprivileged communities in Oakland, California. When they surveyed local residents to find out where they got their culture, they were met with blank stares and a general reply of ‘we don’t have that kind of stuff around here.’ But when researchers returned a few months later and asked the question a different way; ‘Who are the creative people in your community?’ they received an outpouring of information about the artists, musicians, writers dancers, and other creative people who lived nearby. The problem wasn’t a lack of culture in the community, it was that people weren’t associating their creative lives with the galleries, museums, concert halls, and other formal arts institutions that were created and operated on their behalf.

In a similar vein, the organization UX for Good held a “design challenge” workshop in Washington, DC last February to help generate new approaches to accomplishing the mission of America’s National Endowment for the Arts. Seven teams of information architects and user experience designers were invited to invent projects, processes, and programs to “support the arts in every community in the United States,” as their brief stated. They were told they would have access to the NEA’s $130 million annual budget, staff of 162 people, and national network of experts— but they were not told that the project was for, or about, the NEA, or that NEA officials were in attendance. When the teams reported back, none of their concepts proposed to use any aspect of the existing cultural infrastructure that the NEA has spent the last 50 years helping to build. In the minds of those designers, America’s cultural institutions—its museums, symphonies, operas, ballets, performing arts centers, and other cultural attractions—did not seem to be an asset that would help them to accomplish the mission of supporting the arts in every community in the United States. (NEA acting chairman Joan Shigekawa and UX for Good’s Jeff Leitner, both present at the workshop, told me they were humbled and inspired by these results.)

Online it may be no different. The UK’s 40 biggest cultural venues attract less than 0.04% of UK web traffic, observed Culture 24 Director Jane Finnis in the Guardian last year in an article titled “Why your cultural website is rubbish.”

Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle said of America’s academic and research libraries, “The people who are supposed to be doing universal access to knowledge, and are getting $12 billion a year to do it, are not getting the job done.”…

Museums, libraries, and archives—heritage, culture, knowledge, and memory institutions—can play a huge role in the story of how Earth’s 7 billion citizens will lead their lives, make and participate in their culture, learn, share, invent, create, cry, laugh, and do in the future. It is often forgotten that Tim Berners-Lee designed the World Wide Web to have a remarkable central characteristic: everyone who joined would automatically be granted the right to both consume and produce—to read, and write—on equal footing with everyone else.

“The idea was that anybody who used the web would have a space where they could write and so the first browser was an editor, it was a writer as well as a reader,” said Berners-Lee. “Every person who used the web had the ability to write something.” The entire architecture of the World Wide Web is based upon these humanistic, democratic ideals, and we can do a lot of good with them if we make wise choices and concentrate our efforts.

“In a very real sense, astronomy begins anew,” Vera Rubin wrote of her discovery of dark matter. “The joy and fun of understanding the universe we bequeath to our grandchildren—and to their grandchildren. With over 90% of the matter in the universe still to play with, even the sky will not be the limit.”

Dark Matter
The dark matter of the Internet is open, social, peer-to-peer and read/write—and it’s the future of museums
Michael Peter Edson
Medium.com, May 2014

From As We May Think
Now, says Dr. Bush, instruments are at hand which, if properly developed, will give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages. The perfection of these pacific instruments should be the first objective of our scientists as they emerge from their war work.

"Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities. The patent attorney has on call the millions of issued patents, with familiar trails to every point of his client’s interest. The physician, puzzled by a patient’s reactions, strikes the trail established in studying an earlier similar case, and runs rapidly through analogous case histories, with side references to the classics for the pertinent anatomy and histology. The chemist, struggling with the synthesis of an organic compound, has all the chemical literature before him in his laboratory, with trails following the analogies of compounds, and side trails to their physical and chemical behavior.

The historian, with a vast chronological account of a people, parallels it with a skip trail which stops only on the salient items, and can follow at any time contemporary trails which lead him all over civilization at a particular epoch. There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record. The inheritance from the master becomes, not only his additions to the world’s record, but for his disciples the entire scaffolding by which they were erected.

Thus science may implement the ways in which man produces, stores, and consults the record of the race. It might be striking to outline the instrumentalities of the future more spectacularly, rather than to stick closely to methods and elements now known and undergoing rapid development, as has been done here. Technical difficulties of all sorts have been ignored, certainly, but also ignored are means as yet unknown which may come any day to accelerate technical progress as violently as did the advent of the thermionic tube. In order that the picture may not be too commonplace, by reason of sticking to present-day patterns, it may be well to mention one such possibility, not to prophesy but merely to suggest, for prophecy based on extension of the known has substance, while prophecy founded on the unknown is only a doubly involved guess.”

As We May Think
Vannevar Bush
The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945
As Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Dr. Vannevar Bush has coordinated the activities of some six thousand leading American scientists in the application of science to warfare. In this significant article he holds up an incentive for scientists when the fighting has ceased. He urges that men of science should then turn to the massive task of making more accessible our bewildering store of knowledge. For years inventions have extended man’s physical powers rather than the powers of his mind. Trip hammers that multiply the fists, microscopes that sharpen the eye, and engines of destruction and detection are new results, but not the end results, of modern science. Now, says Dr. Bush, instruments are at hand which, if properly developed, will give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages. The perfection of these pacific instruments should be the first objective of our scientists as they emerge from their war work. Like Emerson’s famous address of 1837 on “The American Scholar,” this paper by Dr. Bush calls for a new relationship between thinking man and the sum of our knowledge. —THE EDITOR

See followup blog post Thought Vectors in Concept Space - Vannevar Bush and Dark Matter by Greg Lloyd, June 13, 2014 for Thoughtvectors.net.

After WWII, Vannevar Bush’s July 25, 1945 report Science The Endless Frontier led to the creation of the National Science Foundation.

Bush produced the report at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and delivered it to President Harry S. Truman the same month that As We May Think was published.


Washington, D. C.
November 17, 1944

DEAR DR. BUSH: The Office of Scientific Research and Development, of which you are the Director, represents a unique experiment of team-work and cooperation in coordinating scientific research and in applying existing scientific knowledge to the solution of the technical problems paramount in war. Its work has been conducted in the utmost secrecy and carried on without public recognition of any kind; but its tangible results can be found in the communiques coming in from the battlefronts all over the world. Some day the full story of its achievements can be told.

There is, however, no reason why the lessons to be found in this experiment cannot be profitably employed in times of peace. The information, the techniques, and the research experience developed by the Office of Scientific Research and Development and by the thousands of scientists in the universities and in private industry, should be used in the days of peace ahead for the improvement of the national health, the creation of new enterprises bringing new jobs, and the betterment of the national standard of living.

It is with that objective in mind that I would like to have your recommendations on the following four major points:

First: What can be done, consistent with military security, and with the prior approval of the military authorities, to make known to the world as soon as possible the contributions which have been made during our war effort to scientific knowledge?

The diffusion of such knowledge should help us stimulate new enterprises, provide jobs four our returning servicemen and other workers, and make possible great strides for the improvement of the national well-being.

Second: With particular reference to the war of science against disease, what can be done now to organize a program for continuing in the future the work which has been done in medicine and related sciences?

The fact that the annual deaths in this country from one or two diseases alone are far in excess of the total number of lives lost by us in battle during this war should make us conscious of the duty we owe future generations.

Third: What can the Government do now and in the future to aid research activities by public and private organizations? The proper roles of public and of private research, and their interrelation, should be carefully considered.

Fourth: Can an effective program be proposed for discovering and developing scientific talent in American youth so that the continuing future of scientific research in this country may be assured on a level comparable to what has been done during the war?

New frontiers of the mind are before us, and if they are pioneered with the same vision, boldness, and drive with which we have waged this war we can create a fuller and more fruitful employment and a fuller and more fruitful life.

I hope that, after such consultation as you may deem advisable with your associates and others, you can let me have your considered judgment on these matters as soon as convenient - reporting on each when you are ready, rather than waiting for completion of your studies in all.

Very sincerely yours,

Office of Scientific Research and Development,
Washington, D. C.