Saturday, July 25, 2020

Michael Hart - Chapter Zero

Michael Hart is trying to change Human Nature. He says Human Nature is all that is stopping the Internet from saving the world. The Internet, he says, is a primitive combination of Star Trek communicators, transporters and replicators; and can and will bring nearly everything to nearly everyone. "I type in Shakespeare and everyone, everywhere, and from now until the end of history as we know it—everyone will have a copy instantaneously, on request. Not only books, but the pictures, paintings, music. . .anything that will be digitized. . .which will eventually include it all. A few years ago I wrote some articles about 3-D replication [Stereographic Lithography] in which I told of processes, in use today, that videotaped and played back fastforward on a VCR, look just like something appearing in Star Trek replicators. Last month I saw an article about a stove a person could program from anyhere on the Internet. . .you could literally `fax someone a pizza' or other meals, the `faxing a pizza' being a standard joke among Internetters for years, describing one way to tell when the future can be said to have arrived." For a billion or so people who own or borrow computers it might be said "The Future Is Now" because they can get at 250 Project Gutenberg Electronic Library items, including Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Neil Armstrong landing on the Moon in the same year the Internet was born. This is item #250, and we hope it will save the Internet, and the world. . .and not be a futile, quixotic effort. Let's face it, a country with an Adult Illiteracy Rate of 47% is not nearly as likely to develop a cure for AIDS as a country with an Adult Literacy Rate of 99%. However, Michael Hart says the Internet has changed a lot in the last year, and not in the direction that will take the Project Gutenberg Etexts into the homes of the 47% of the adult population of the United States that is said to be functionally illiterate by the 1994 US Report on Adult Literacy. He has been trying to ensure that there is not going to be an "Information Rich" and "Information Poor," as a result of a Feudal Dark Ages approach to this coming "Age of Information". . .he has been trying since 1971, a virtual "First Citizen" of the Internet since he might be the first person on the Internet who was NOT paid to work on the Internet/ARPANet or its member computers. Flashback In either case, he was probably one of the first 100 on a fledgling Net and certainly the first to post information of a general nature for others on the Net to download; it was the United States' Declaration of Independence. This was followed by the U.S. Bill of Rights, and then a whole Etext of the U.S. Constitution, etc. You might consider, just for the ten minutes the first two might require, the reading of the first two of these documents that were put on the Internet starting 24 years ago: and maybe reading the beginning of the third. The people who provided his Internet account thought this whole concept was nuts, but the files didn't take a whole lot of space, and the 200th Anniversary of the Revolution [of the United States against England] was coming up, and parchment replicas of all the Revolution's Documents were found nearly everywhere at the time. The idea of putting the Complete Works of Shakespeare, the Bible, the Q'uran, and more on the Net was still pure Science Fiction to any but Mr. Hart at the time. For the first 17 years of this project, the only responses received were of the order of "You want to put Shakespeare on a computer!? You must be NUTS!" and that's where it stayed until the "Great Growth Spurt" hit the Internet in 1987-88. All of a sudden, the Internet hit "Critical Mass" and there were enough people to start a conversation on nearly any subject, including, of all things, electronic books, and, for the first time, Project Gutenberg received a message saying the Etext for everyone concept was a good idea. That watershed event caused a ripple effect. With others finally interested in Etext, a "Mass Marketing Approach," and such it was, was finally appropriate, and the release of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan signalled beginnings of a widespread production and consumption of Etexts. In Appendix A you will find a listing of these 250, in order of their release. Volunteers began popping up, right on schedule, to assist in the creation or distribution of what Project Gutenberg hoped would be 10,000 items by the end of 2001, only just 30 years after the first Etext was posted on the Net. Flash Forward Today there are about 500 volunteers at Project Gutenberg and they are spread all over the globe, from people doing their favorite book then never being heard from again, to PhD's, department heads, vice-presidents, and lawyers who do reams of copyright research, and some who have done in excess of 20 Etexts pretty much by themselves; appreciate is too small a word for how Michael feel about these, and tears would be the only appropriate gesture. There are approximately 400 million computers today, with the traditional 1% of them being on the Internet, and the traditional ratio of about 10 users per Internet node has continued, too, as there are about 40 million people on a vast series of Internet gateways. Ratios like these have been a virtual constant through Internet development. If there is only an average of 2.5 people on each of 400M computers, that is a billion people, just in 1995. There will probably be a billion computers in the world by 2001 when Project Gutenberg hopes to have 10,000 items online. If only 10% of those computers contain the average Etexts from Project Gutenberg that will mean Project Gutenberg's goal of giving away one trillion Etexts will be completed at that time, not counting that more than one person will be able to use any of these copies. If the average would still be 2.5 people per computer, then only 4% of all the computers would be required to have reached one trillion. [10,000 Etexts to 100,000,000 people equals one trillion] Hart's dream as adequately expressed by "Grolier's" CDROM Electronic Encyclopedia has been his signature block with permission, for years, but this idea is now threatened by those who feel threatened by Unlimited Distribution: ===================================================== | The trend of library policy is clearly toward | the ideal of making all information available | without delay to all people. | |The Software Toolworks Illustrated Encyclopedia (TM) |(c) 1990, 1991 Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc. ============================================= Michael S. Hart, Professor of Electronic Text Executive Director of Project Gutenberg Etext Illinois Benedictine College, Lisle, IL 60532 No official connection to U of Illinois—UIUC hart@uiucvmd.bitnet and Internet User Number 100 [approximately] [TM] Break Down the Bars of Ignorance & Illiteracy On the Carnegie Libraries' 100th Anniversary! Human Nature such as it is, has presented a great deal of resistance to the free distribution of anything, even air and water, over the millennia. Hart hopes the Third Millennium A.D. can be different. But it will require an evolution in human nature and even perhaps a revolution in human nature. So far, the history of humankind has been a history of an ideal of monopoly: one tribe gets the lever, or a wheel, or copper, iron or steel, and uses it to command, control or otherwise lord it over another tribe. When there is a big surplus, trade routes begin to open up, civilizations begin to expand, and good times are had by all. When the huge surplus is NOT present, the first three estates lord it over the rest in virtually the same manner as historic figures have done through the ages: "I have got this and you don't." [Nyah nyah naa naa naa!] *** *** Now that ownership of the basic library of human thoughts is potentially available to every human being on Earth—I have been watching the various attempts to keep this from actually being available to everyone on the planet: this is what I have seen: 1. Ridicule Those who would prefer to think their worlds would be destroyed by infinite availability of books such as: Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Aesop's Fables or the Complete Works of Shakespeare, Milton or others, have ridiculed the efforts of those who would give them to all free of charge by arguing about whether it should be: "To be or not to be" or "To be [,] or not to be" or "To be [;] or not to be"/"To be [:] or not to be" or whatever; and that whatever their choices are, for this earthshaking matter, that no other choice should be possible to anyone else. My choice of editions is final because I have a scholarly opinion. 1A. My response has been to refuse to discuss: "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin," [or many other matters of similar importance]. I know this was once considered of utmost importance, BUT IN A COUNTRY WHERE HALF THE ADULTS COULD NOT EVEN READ SHAKESPEARE IF IT WERE GIVEN TO THEM, I feel the general literacy and literary requirements overtake a decision such as theirs. If they honestly wanted the best version of Shakespeare [in their estimations] to be the default version on the Internet, they wouldn't have refused to create just such an edition, wouldn't have shot down my suggested plan to help them make it . . .for so many years. . .nor, when they finally did agree, they wouldn't have let an offer from a largest wannabee Etext provider to provide them with discount prices, and undermine their resolve to create a super quality public domain edition of Shakespeare. It was an incredible commentary on the educational system in that the Shakespeare edition we finally did use for a standard Internet Etext was donated by a commercial— yes—commercial vendor, who sells it for a living. In fact, I must state for the record, that education, as an institution, has had very little to do with the creation and distribution of Public Domain Etexts for the public, and that contributions by the commercial, capitalistic corporations has been the primary force, by a large margin, that funds Project Gutenberg. The 500 volunteers we have come exclusively from smaller, less renowned institutions of education, without any, not one that I can think of, from any of the major or near major educational institutions of the world. It would appear that those Seven Deadly Sins listed a few paragraphs previously have gone a long way to the proof of the saying that "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Power certainly accrues to those who covet it and the proof of the pudding is that all of the powerful club we have approached have refused to assist in the very new concept of truly Universal Education. Members of those top educational institutions managed to subscribe to our free newsletter often enough, but not one of them ever volunteered to do a book or even to donate a dollar for what they have received: even send in lists of errors they say they have noticed. Not one. [There is a word for the act of complaining about something without [literally] lifting a finger] The entire body of freely available Etexts has been a product of the "little people." 2. Cost Inflation When Etexts were first coming it, estimates were sent around the Internet that it took $10,000 to create an Etexts, and that therefore it would take $100,000,000 to create the proposed Project Gutenberg Library. $500,000,000 was supposedly donated to create Etexts, by one famous foundation, duly reported by the media, but these Etexts have not found their way into hands, or minds, of the public, nor will they very soon I am afraid, though I would love to be put out of business [so to say] by the act of these institutions' release of the thousands of Etexts some of them already have, and that others have been talking about for years. My response was, has been, and will be, simply to get the Etexts out there, on time, and with no budget. A simple proof that the problem does not exist. If the team of Project Gutenberg volunteers can produce this number of Etexts and provide it to the entire world's computerized population, then the zillions of dollars you hear being donated to the creations of electronic libraries by various government and private donations should be used to keep the Information Superhighway a free and productive place for all, not just for those 1% of computers that have already found a home there. 3. Graphics and Markup versus Plain Vanilla ASCII The one thing you will see in common with ALL of such graphics and markup proposals is LIMITED DISTRIBUTION as a way of life. The purpose of each one of these is and always has been to keep knowledge in the hands of the few and away from the minds of the many. I predict that in the not-too-distant-future that all materials will either be circulating on the Internet, or that they will be jealously guarded by owners whom I described with the Seven Deadly Sins. If there is ever such a thing as the "Tri-corder," of Star Trek fame, I am sure there simultaneously has to be developed a "safe" in which those who don't want a whole population to have what they have will "lock" a valuable object to ensure its uniqueness; the concept of which I am speaking is illustrated by this story: "A butler announces a delivery, by very distinguished members of a very famous auction house. The master— for he IS master—beckons him to his study desk where the butler deposits his silver tray, containing a big triangular stamp, then turns to go. What some of these projects with tens of millions for their "Electronic Libraries" are doing to ensure this is for THEM and not for everyone is to prepare Etexts in a manner in which no normal person would either be willing or able to read them. Shakespeare's Hamlet is a tiny file in PVASCII, small enough for half a dozen copies to fit [uncompressed!] on a $.23 floppy disk that fits in your pocket. But, if it is preserved as a PICTURE of each page, then it will take so much space that it would be difficult to carry around even a single copy in that pocket unless it were on a floppy sized optical disk, and even then I don't think it would fit. Another way to ensure no normal person would read it, to mark it up so blatantly that the human eyes should have difficulty in scansion, stuttering around pages, rather than sliding easily over them; the information contained in this "markup" is deemed crucial by those esoteric scholars who think it is of vital importance that a coffee cup stain appears at the lower right of a certain page, and that "Act I" be followed by [<ACT ONE>] to ensure everyone knows this is actually where this is where an act or scene or whatever starts. You probably would not believe how much money has had the honor of being spent on these kinds of projects a normal person is intentionlly deprived of through the mixture is just plain HIDING the files, to making the files so BIG you can't download them, to making them so WEIRD you wouldn't read them if you got them. The concept of requiring all documents to be formatted in a certain manner such that only a certain program can read them has been proposed more often then you might ever want to imagine, for the TWIN PURPOSES OF PROFIT AND LIMITED DISTRIBUTION in a medium which requires a virtue of UNLIMITED DISTRIBUTION to keep it growing. Every day I read articles, proposals, proceedings for various conferences that promote LIMITED DISTRIBUTION on the Nets. . .simply to raise the prestige or money to keep some small oligarchy in power. This is truly a time of POWER TO THE PEOPLE as people say in the United States. What we have here is a conflict between the concepts that everything SHOULD be in LIMITED DISTRIBUTION, and that of the opposing concept of UNLIMITED DISTRIBUTION. If you look over the table of contents on the next pages, you will see that each of these item stresses the greater and greater differences between an history which has been dedicated to the preservation of Limited Distribution and something so new it has no history longer than 25 years—

Source: Project Gutenberg's A Brief History of the Internet, by Michael Hart

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