Nobel Prize Medals

The Nobel Prize is perhaps the most prestigious and well known award and given each year for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Peace and Economic Sciences. The award for Economic Sciences, established in 1968, is not one of the original prizes established in 1895 through Alfred Nobel’s Will. It is technically called The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, though common called the Nobel Prize in Economics as the process, criteria and award ceremony are done in the same way as the other Nobel Prizes. This prize in Economics has been a source of controversy for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless it is still a Real Nobel Prize just like the others. The announcements for the Nobel Prize are made during October and the ceremony is held in Stockholm, Sweden during December. Each recipient must deliver a Nobel Prize Lecture within six months of the official ceremony to receive the prize money.

The establishment of the Nobel Prize stems from the last will and testament of Alfred Nobel, signed on November 27, 1895 at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris. Alfred Nobel died on December 10, 1896 from a stroke due to a long lasting heart ailment. When the will was read it caused quite a controversy as the majority of his wealth was left to the establishment of “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind,” as the will stipulated, and outlined the five equal parts: (physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, peace) and the awarding bodies. Alfred Nobel’s fortune he left was over 31 million Swedish Kroner, which In today’s dollars, accounting for inflation, would have been about 265 million dollars. It was a vast fortune at the time, and one of the largest in the world, accrued through Nobel’s many patents and companies. Alfred Nobel’s life as a chemist, engineer and industrialist led to some 355 patents, but is most famously known as the inventor of dynamite. Today the assets are worth almost twice this amount, around 443 million dollars, managed by the Nobel Foundation.

The first Nobel Prizes were not awarded until 1901, some five years after Alfred Nobel’s death. Though Nobel never married and had no children, his extended relatives contested the will and the named prize-awarding bodies initially were reluctant to comply with the will as they were not consulted. It was also criticized by by the King of Sweden at the time, Oscar II, and other Swedish leaders in the belief that the assets could be used to help Sweden rather than dispersing them to the world through a prize. It was complicated by the fact that Alfred Nobel left the assets to executors and awarding bodies for which a foundation had to be created with everybody on board. This in itself was not an easy task, but the Nobel Foundation was eventually founded on June 29, 1900. The following year the first Nobel Prizes were awarded.

Table of Nobel Prize Awardees Data (1986-2016)

There has been some debate about race and gender disparity in the Nobel Laureates, specifically with regards to women and minorities (non-Caucasian), and also religious persuasion. The statistics do indeed look very disparaging when taking the total span of years the original Nobel Prizes have been around (1901 to present), but this should not be a surprise given the society of the 20th century and that social progress for women and minorities only advanced later in the century. So, looking at a 30 year span (a generation) from 1986-2016 is perhaps more indicative of current trends. The data show (no surprise) that Caucasian’s by far lead the pack in winning percentage (80%), followed by Jewish (36%), Asian (18%), Women (14%), Black (5%) and Hispanic (4%). See the tabulated data for a breakdown by award. The only award that is fairly evenly distributed is the Nobel Peace Prize. There are a couple of points here that are relevant:

  1. ) The first is who the nominators are, that is, what is the gender , cultural diversity, and/or racial distribution of those making the nominations for the Nobel Prize. A more balanced distribution could help remedy this problem. Historically (1901-1966) the distribution of nominees looks very much like that of the nominators. Data is only available up to 1966 because the Nobel Foundation has a 50 Year Secrecy Rule that states: “The Committee does not itself announce the names of nominees, neither to the media nor to the candidates themselves. In so far as certain names crop up in the advance speculations as to who will be awarded any given year’s Prize, this is either sheer guesswork or information put out by the person or persons behind the nomination. Information in the Nobel Committee’s nomination database is not made public until after fifty years”.
  2. ) The second point concerns the centers of research themselves, which tend to be in the United States and Europe for the most part, which is mostly Caucasian, and in Asia to some extent. This is a matter of resources and opportunity, and it’s just a fact of the world that places with stable governments, freedom, and equal opportunity afford scientists prosperity in their work. This is the result of geopolitical situations, but with some gender and racial aspects to it as well that can not be ignored.

Nobel Prize Nominators and Nominees (1901-1966). Source: nobelprize.org

With those issues covered, there is also debate over the relevance and adaptation to changing times of the Nobel Prize in today’s world. It is argued that, at least for the fields of science, the approach has changed since the inception of the Nobel Prize. No longer do scientists work in private, toiling away in private for years on theory or experiment to produce great discoveries, but that science is more a community effort now with colleagues cooperating together, hosts of graduate students participating, and laboratories lending their resources for cutting edge experimentation. Although there are a number of Nobel Prize Awarded Organizations, they are all for the Nobel Peace Prize, and this has not been the case with other Nobel Prize awards. There is nothing prohibiting this, in say physics, but it is just never done. There are good arguments that it is time to consider this. A good example is the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017, which was awarded “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves“. What is LIGO, you may ask? The acronym stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, constructed between 1994-2002, until it became operational on August 23, 2002. That is 15 years of operation between 2002-2017, but overall there have been decades of work, theoretically and experimentally, regarding gravitational waves involving hundreds (if not thousands) of scientists. In the end, the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2017 was given to just three people. Some articles published in early October 2017 address this further:

The Atlantic: The Absurdity of the Nobel Prize
Scientific American: It’s Time to Rethink the Nobel Prizes
Slate: The Nobel Prizes Should Reward Science, Not Scientists

The Nobel Foundation Statues state that “In no case may a prize amount be divided between more than three persons.”, but goes on to say, “Each prize-awarding body shall be competent to decide whether the prize it is entitled to award may be conferred upon an institution or association”. From 1901-2017, a total of 27 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to organizations, but all of them have been for the Nobel Peace Prize. So, there you have it, the prize-awarding bodies for the sciences are free to choose an organization for the award, but they never do. The Nobel Foundation is very steeped in its history and tradition, but seemingly very resistant to change, which is why some see it as an antiquated body unwilling to overhauling the Nobel Prizes in keeping up with modern times. Regardless, there is some legality in all this. This is tied to the will of Alfred Nobel and subsequent establishment of the Nobel Foundation, however, some flexibility could be exercised in interpretation of the legal underpinnings.

It is perhaps time for the Nobel Foundation to consider addressing some issues regarding gender and race for the Nobel awards overall, as well and inclusiveness in science with regards to the more collaborative approach of science in modern times. Tradition and historical continuity have their place, but there is something to be said about changing with the times as well. Such an approach does not have to diminish the credibility and prestige of the prizes, but may afford them wider appeal and make them less susceptible to criticism from various opponents. As it stands, it is what it is for now and something to celebrate in the context of which the Nobel Prizes are awarded.

Nobel Prize Facts. Source: nobelprize.org

Facts about the Nobel Prize:

The Nobel Prize is an international award given by the Nobel Foundation in Sweden.
The Nobel Prize consists of a medal, a personal diploma, and a cash award.
The Nobel Prize can not be awarded posthumously.
The Nobel Prize is awarded without consent of the recipient.
The Nobel Prize may be awarded to no more than 3 recipients for each prize.
The Nobel Prize can be awarded to organizations.
The Nobel prizes can not be appealed.
The Nobel Prize votes are usually announced as unanimous. (* see note below)
The Nobel Prize winners are announced in October.
The Nobel Prize recipient is called a Nobel Laureate.

*Note: The Committees seek to achieve unanimity in its selection of Nobel Laureate’s. On the rare occasions when this proves impossible, the selection is decided by a simple majority vote.

The official website for the Nobel Prize, nobelprize.org, is a wealth of information to explore. Another site, nonelpeaceprize.org, is also worth looking at.

Some further links of interest for reference or further reading:

National Geographic: Nobel Prizes 2017:Facts About the Secretive Process and Peculiar Past
Fortune: Why the Nobel Prize Payout is Shrinking
New Republic: What Happened to the Nobel Prize in Literature?
Atlantic: The Political Slant of the Nobel Prize in Economics
Live Science: Nobel Prize in Physics: 1901-Present
New York Times: Alfred Nobel and the Prize That Almost Didn’t Happen
New York Review of Books: Satre on the Nobel Prize
Stats: Evolution of National Nobel Prize Shares in the 20th Century
Forbes: American Leadership in Science, Measured in Nobel Prizes [Infographic]
Business Insider: Here’s a Beautiful Visualization of Nobel Prizes By Country Since 1901
The Guardian: Nobel Peace Prize Winners – The full list
Britannica: Nobel Prize

 

Advertisements

La Morte di Caesare by Vincenzo Camucci (1798)

The Ides of March was made famous by Shakespeare in the play Julius Caesar (Act I, Scene 2), where a soothsayer warns Caesar “Beware the Ides of March”. Julius Caesar, was of course, assassinated in 44 BC on the 15th of March, a date known as the Ides of March. It’s really not so bad and ominous as days go if one understands more about the Roman calendar. The Romans didn’t count calendar days like we do. They used a reverse-count to reference days, always before and never after. Three days had names. The beginning of the month was called the Kalends, the middle called Ides, and they also had Nones, meaning 8th day before (or 9th day before and including) the Ides. The Nones occur on the 5th except by this rhyme: “March, July, October, May. The Nones are on the seventh day“. From this, it’s clear that for Nones on the 5th, Ides are on the 13th (short months), while for Nones on the 7th, Ides are on the 15th (long months). The Roman method of counting days was inclusive, so the Kalends, Nones and Ides would be counted as one of the days. For example March 3 (5 Nones) counts 3,4,5,6,7 (or 5 days) for the total. Romans would say like the following, apparently logical in Latin for them:

March 1: Kalends of March
March 2: 6 Nones of March (Ante Diem VI Nones)
March 3: 5 Nones of March
March 4: 4 Nones of March
March 5: 3 Nones of March (Ante Diem III Nones)
March 6: 2 Nones of March or Pridie Nones of March
(Pridie is Latin for “day before”)
March 7: Nones of March
March 8: 8 Ides of March (Ante Diem VIII Ides)
March 9: 7 Ides of March
March 10: 6 Ides of March
March 11: 5 Ides of March
March 12: 4 Ides of March
March 13: 3 Ides of March (Ante Diem III Ides)
March 14: 2 Ides of March or Pridie Ides (day before the Ides)
March 15: Ides of March
March 16: 17 Kalends of April (Ante Diem XVII Kalends)
March 17: 16 Kalends of April
etc…
March 30: 3 Kalends of April (Ante Diem III Kalends)
March 31: 2 Kalends of April or Pridie Kalends of April
(day before the Kalends)
April 1: Kalends of April

So, after Kalends one counts days before Nones, after Nones one counts days before Ides and after Ides one counts days before next Kalends. It’s a bit different for long and short months, but here’s a rhyme to help out:

On March the 7th, May, July,
October too, the Nones you spy;
Except in these, those Nones appear
On the 5th day of all the year.
If to the NONE you add an 8
Of every IDE you’ll find the date.

Fortunate for Shakespeare that the day Caesar was killed had such a nice ring to it that he could pen the famous line “Beware the Ides of March”, for if Caesar had been killed on the next day it would not have sounded as ominous to say “Beware the 17 Kalends of April”. Nevertheless, aside from it being the day of the death of Caesar there is nothing particularly foreboding for most of us about the Ides of March itself, and each month has an Ides as the Romans referred to them.

Keep on Trekkin

As I did at the end of 2013 & 2014, so I do again here at the end of 2015 to recount some travel experiences, which I don’t normally write about here. I need not give the whole setup again for the premise of such entries and see my blog from the end of 2013: Travels of Spocklogic. The notables this year (travel blogs I finished or made additions to) include:

feature-Erice2014-lgFeature-Indian_Wedding

Feature - Washington DC-1

Feature-China_2014

Feature-Spocklogics_TravBuddy_Meetups

 

That’s the summary for 2015. Some are carry overs from 2014, but I finished the blogs in 2015, after my last post on travels (see: Travels of Spocklogic II) in December 2014 or earlier if I made additions. As I alluded to in recent entries, I will take a break from this Cogito Ergo blog for a while in 2016. I’ve had 20 years of internet exposure and been blogging for 10 years (see: 20 Years of Internet and Mapping the Internet). I hope to return again with a fresh perspective down the line. There’s plenty to explore in the Cogito Ergo blog archives until then (see the link to: Browse Blog Posts). Best wishes for the New Year 2016! See you in the future…

bones-travels-through-time

polling-1000

The news always seems full of surveys/polls about this or that, trying to predict trends or outcomes and explain society. Nowhere is polling more prevalent than in the political arenas. One popular place to go for polling data is Rasmussen Reports, which says of itself, “If it’s in the News, it’s in our polls.”  They do many surveys too, but this is just a poll of another kind. Here are some seasonal examples I looked up on their website (as of 11/27/2015):

1.) Nearly 3-out-of-4 American Adults (72%) think stores start the Christmas season too early.
2.) 43% of American Adults say they have started their gift shopping. 54%have not.

About these polls it is told that 1,000 American adults were surveyed and that “The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.” Hmmm, what does that mean? To understand this, some definitions are in order, specifically ‘margin of error’ and ‘level of confidence’.

Margin of Error (MoE) – Measure of the accuracy of the results, which indicates the difference between an estimate of something and its true value.
Level of Confidence (LoC) – Measure of the reliability of a result, which tells how confident we are in the margin or error.

Polls and surveys work by asking a random sample of the total population a series of questions. Obviously they can not ask the total population (perhaps hundreds of millions), so they sample in a random way (it’s cheaper and quicker) and use that data to state something relevant. The numbers themselves can be thrown around, but how accurate are they? That’s where MoE and LoC come into play. It’s important to remember that the MoE and LoC depend on the sample size, not the total population size, if that total population size is large. For a 95% LoC, the MoE turns out to be 0.98/√n, where n=1000 (the sample size). Do the math and it is 0.98/√1000 = 0.03 (or +/- 3%). In simple terms, this means that the survey/poll is 95% confident that the error between the sampled population and the total population is +/- 3%. Said another way, if you keep polling in the same way, then 95% of the time the answer you get will be within 3% of the correct answer. The mathematics reveals that (contrary to popular belief) the relative sample size matters less than the absolute sample size. That is, the results are independent of the total population, no matter how big it is, and it is just the sample size itself of that population that matters. How is it possible that a sample size as small as 1000 out of a total population in the millions or hundreds of millions has an MoE as small as +/- 3%? Welcome to the nature of the so-called ‘Bell Curve’. It’s also called the ‘normal distribution’ and is is a tool statisticians use to tell how far the sample is likely to be off from the overall population, that is, how big a MoE there is likely to be in a survey/poll.

Bell-MoE

Under the most ideal conditions, the above is generally true, but a more realistic condition is that an LoC of at least 95% requires that LoC >[1 – 1/(4n*MoE^2)], which for n = 1000 gives MoE ~ 0.07 (or 7%). This turns out to be a more realistic number for mathematical reasons relating to the sampling itself and randomness (see Small samples, and the margin of error). Further, even this is somewhat idealized in scenario and questions can come up as to nature of population sampled, questions refused, undecided, understood, truthful and other intangibles which can play a role. Survey and polls can be widely off depending on the nature of the questions and how they are answered or not answered. Treat them all with skepticism, but bear in mind they CAN be accurate even with a sample size as small as 1000. This seems to be the magic number (n=1000) most survey/poll people use to get the 95% LoC with 3-7% MoE, and usually the ideal case of 3% MoE.

The truth of political polling is that if 3% MoE is acceptable 95% of the time, then that is what they go with. People who poll and survey seem to have settled on this and the sample size is usually 1000 people. It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true from a mathematical perspective. In all human endeavors there are always intangibles to be considered (some of which I’ve mentioned) and these can make survey/polls quite unreliable. In addition they can quickly become irrelevant soon after they are taken when events or circumstances change. My best advice it to treat them as you might the daily Horoscope, realizing they encompass a multitude of possibilities, but the reality is in the outcome itself. The mathematics does not lie and can be a predictor of trends and outcomes, even with a small population. The greatest variable is not the behavior of human beings, which can reasonably be predicted under certain conditions, but the human beings themselves, who are both the predictor and predicted simultaneously. We tend to change with the wind. I think of it as weather, which changes from day to day, week to week, month to month, but climate itself is the long term average of weather, which can be predicted. Polls/surveys are like the weather and change daily, weekly, monthly like weather, but long term maybe can be averaged to predict human behavior. This is somewhat the basis of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series where the science of psychohistory can predict the track of humanity into the far future, but the random element always plays a role, which can throw predictions off.

Foundation-Trilogy

Remember always, mathematics doesn’t lie, but people do, though not always intentionally. We live in a very partisan and biased culture where so-called ‘news’ media conduct their own polls, present the results without even understanding the mathematics of what it means. These media personalities of today are mostly sensationalist and/or just want to promote their conservative and/or liberal cause, what ever those nomenclatures mean anymore. I still remember the words of Dr. Fitz, as we called him, my Advanced Civics teacher in high school back in the late 1970’s who told us to read, listen and watch, then read between the lines. That advise has stuck with me my whole life and never has it been a more valuable lesson than in our culture today.

Note: In general, for Margin of Error (MoE) at various Levels of Confidence (LoC), use these formulas, where n=sample size:

MoE at 99% LoC ~ 1.29/√n
MoE at 95% LoC ~ 0.98/√n
MoE at 90% LoC ~ 0.82/√n

If the sample fraction is > 5% of the total population, then also multiply the results by the factor √[(N – n)/(N – 1)], where n = sample population, N = total population. This is the ‘finite population correction’. Usually the N >> n, so this correction is negligible.

There are also Margin of Error calculators you can use, such as:

http://www.americanresearchgroup.com/moe.html

Statistics and mathematics aside, it’s really the quality of the questions, how they are asked and responded to that matter more perhaps. That is, how sound was the methodology of a survey or poll, and was there any ‘built-in’ (intentional or unintentional) bias? Statistics alone can not answer that, as it’s a more subjective question. Non-sampling errors can always creep in, even in the best designed survey/poll. These include true randomness, poorly designed questions, poor interviewers, and a host of other factors. These non-sampling errors can, in fact, often exceed the sampling errors themselves. It’s always best to treat surveys/polls with some skepticism and the statistics behind them are not always just an indicator of their reliability.

Carpenters-song-bmw

My father died on October 25, 2015 at 1:25 a.m. – Age 76 years and 23 days as the calendar counts. My thoughts go back to the death of my mother in 2007, which I wrote about in Exploring Death and Dying. These things still apply, but I don’t know what to say having lost both my mother and father now. He faced his health issues over the last decade or more with courage, but also acceptance of what faced him. In the end he faced death with the same attitude he faced life, as he thought best. Death came quickly for him, advancing in just short time, and he was awake and aware until shortly before he died in the company of his wife for some 35+ years. She told me a story of his brave last hours knowing he was dying, but not suffering. That’s my father, and I would have expected nothing less than going out the way he wanted to. Even going so far as telling the doctors to go away, stop checking, and let him die in peace. That’s my father! The headline image of this blog is a poem I wrote for my father in 2002 about his craftsmanship as a carpenter, and it echoes his passing now too.

Farewell My Father, and if there is an afterlife, may you build in new and interesting ethereal ways… I have some photos of me and my Dad over the years to offer and a video slide show of a particular Baseball reunion with my father and his two sons in 2007. Baseball has played a role in our lives over the years as long lamenting Red Sox fans, but in the recent decade or so have been victorious 3 times over. I’m glad my Dad got to see that in his lifetime and hope in the end he was somewhat proud of his sons, and his daughter too. We are all proud of him in our own way and maybe it can be said that if a man does the best he can, he has achieved all that he can be. That’s something to celebrate and to remember…

APR 63

A Family (big brother, father, mother and me) – 1963

Father&son-1965

Father & Son – 1965

Father&son-1967

Father & Son – 1967

Father&son-1969

Father & Son – 1969

Father&son-1980

Father & Son (with little sister on the right) – 1980

Father&son-1989

Father & Son – 1989

Father&son-2002

Father & Son 2002

Father&son-2007

Father & Son – 2007

Father&son-2010

Father & Son – 2010

Father&son-2014

Father & Son (With my daughter Jennifer in between) – 2014

 

Father and Son Reunion at Fenway Park in Boston – A slideshow my brother and I put together a day or two after the event in 2007.

My father and I would sometimes discuss poetry, and the last one we talked about was “Good Hours” by Robert Frost and it’s a good one to end on, or continue on…

Good Hours

I had for my winter evening walk—
No one at all with whom to talk,
But I had the cottages in a row
Up to their shining eyes in snow.

And I thought I had the folk within:
I had the sound of a violin;
I had a glimpse through curtain laces
Of youthful forms and youthful faces.

I had such company outward bound.
I went till there were no cottages found.
I turned and repented, but coming back
I saw no window but that was black.

Over the snow my creaking feet
Disturbed the slumbering village street
Like profanation, by your leave,
At ten o’clock of a winter eve.

~ Robert Frost

Map-cyberspace?

Cyberspace?

If you had to imagine what the Internet looked like, what would come to mind? This seemingly innocent question has given rise to some interesting and occasionally bizarre representations. There are the physical aspects, the infrastructure that makes it possible, the hardware that runs it, the software that interfaces with people and then there are the people themselves. There is a whole other conceptual side to it, which strays into realms of the human mind, and even the name cyberspace congers up visions of some universe within our own, but that is ill defined in physical space. The prefix cyber cyber comes from the Greek word kybernet,  meaning to steer or guide (a helmsman), from which cybernetic  is derived. One can appreciate the irony there and does the internet do the steering or the people using it? Well, this is a big topic and the many questions raised are outside the scope of this blog. When it comes to visualizing the internet I tend to like maps of the world that reflect human behavior or trends in activity. I showed some in a previous blog from June, 2014: The Internet – Yesterday to Today. The maps shown here show the who and how people are connected:

Map-of-internet-users-per-100-people-2012

Map-world-online-by pervcent-2013

Map-world-online-growing-access-2013

Map-of-internet-freedom-2014

Map-of TeleGeography-2015

In viewing some of these maps, I began to wonder what my own WordPress map of visitors compared to some of these. Turns out it actually looks fairly similar for the most part and is most easily compared with the map of Internet users per 100 people and Map of Internet Freedom. Below I show my map of visitors to Cogito Ergo during the period 2012 to 2015, and the associated list of countries with number of visits below that. All total, this blog has had more that ~11,000 views; ~6,000 visitors. On a monthly basis there are an average of 276 views; 163 visitors; 1.78 views per visitor. Currently there are 117 posts, 40 categories and 230 tags. I just record these stats for posterity and reference, and not sure they are of much interest to anyone. The map and countries below only reflect 2012-2015 since I activated the mapping feature, not the total numbers since I started this WordPress blog in 2011 and migrated all my previous years blogs here from another platform. I have actually been writing this blog for just about 10 years now. It may be time to give it a rest for a while and pondering a hiatus in 2016.

wordpress-2015-map

Cogito Ergo WordPress map of views (2012-2015)

WPmap-countries-107

Cogito Ergo list of countries by views (2012-2015)

This idea of Mapping the Internet is likely to expand in the future. It’s not just about the technical details or the purview of science to tell. Science is good at telling us how thing work, but not why they work or what they are good for. For example, we can figure out how the universe works, but not really why it works that way or why it exists. The future will have to go beyond the science and statistics of things and delve deeper into the relationship of man and machine. Mankind has been mapping the physical space on earth and outer space for millennia. The physical space of the human body and inner space of the human mind the brain has been explored for centuries and we are just beginning to map it. This thing called the Internet or cyberspace is as vast and complex I think than even we realize – like the universe itself or the human brain. In this case, however, the creator will be examining his creation. The ultimate Mapping of the Internet may reveal the creator in a new light, hopefully not Man the God, but Man the inquisitive explorer. Ultimately man is a temporary tenant of Planet Earth. Reaching into inner space or cyberspace to see ourselves may someday inspire us to reach for the stars. I like that line from the 2014 film Interstellar:

Man was born on Earth, but he wasn’t meant to die here.

I give some links for Internet Map exploration:

Global Internet Maps

The Internet Map
Geonet
Internet Census 2012
The Opte Project
Ways to Map the Internet
.

20-yrs-internet

I read somewhere once that in the Middle Ages some people believed we are all created from preformed tiny human beings, called homunculus (Latin for “little man”), which grow into ourselves, but the inner homunculus always maintains control. Who is really pulling the strings, eh? I mention this because it is near about 20 years on the internet for me now and it feels a bit like a homunculus, even though I was born long before it became widely available to the public. I can’t really imagine what it’s like to be born into the world with the internet already existing. Sometimes it feels like it has always been there, so ingrained has it become, but I know when I think back in ‘the before time’ I have memories of a world without it. I don’t want to focus on the ‘before time’ in this blog, but say something about 20 years of Internet. Just for fun, I can start by sampling what the internet looked like 20 years ago. Should I be capitalizing it as Internet?

Web-sites-1995

Looks pretty cheesy by standards of today, but back then it was the ‘bees knees’, to use a very old fashioned phrase. In those days most of these companies were using available technology, but the internet was mostly slow and clunky. I bought a 28.8k baud modem in 1995 and squealed my way into cyberspace. At first I only found things like BBS (Bulletin Board System), Usenet or News Groups. These were mostly discussion based arenas for sharing information, though some media could be exchanged as well, but it could be time consuming depending on the size. I did this on the cheap finding numbers to dial up and get online, then once accessing information I found ways to set up TCP/IP and access web pages with a thing called Netscape using various other dial-ups. These free dial-ups came and went with the wind, but I suppose the seeds of a homunculus were planted inside me during those days. You had to be sort of clever and tech inclined to make this shit work back then. The October 1995 issue of FHM (featuring Cindy Crawford on the cover) had an article entitled: “How to log on to the internet – the pleasures and pitfalls of going online”, by Tony Horkins.

dissecting-fhms-seminal-october-1995-feature-how-to-log-on-the-internet-101-body-image-1433515762

Eventually I think I got Compuserve and then AOL (America Online) after that. The rest is history and the homunculus that has grown inside me now seems to have a mind of its own – well, it’s my mind, but still… At least I think it’s still my mind. This brings me to the infamous Clifford Stoll Newsweek article from 1995 entitled “The Internet? Bah!“. Clifford Stoll is much maligned today for getting it wrong, but on reading it in 2015 I think maybe he got it right – for the most part anyway. I feel his vibe now in attitude and it brings us together, but at the same time isolates us from one another. There’s a great passage at the end of the article:

While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth.

At the time Clifford Stoll wrote those words, he had the 20 years experience with the internet already, not as advanced as it is today, but enough to recognize something fundamental in the human experience. My own experience 20 years on after using the internet allows me to recognize that while it has its uses it is just a tool, another in the history of mankind. We should not lose sight of that and while mastery of tools set us apart from the beasts of the wilderness, those tools do not define us. We are all something more than the sum of our parts or the tools we use. There is a danger in being servant to the internet as opposed to allowing the internet to serve you. As Mr. Spock said in the 1968 Star Trek episode “The Ultimate Computer”:

Computers make excellent and efficient servants; but I have no wish to serve under them.

Such reflections are well considered and philosophically sound. Take a step back and think about it, whether it be 20, 10, 5 or 1 year of internet experience…

vintage-social-networking1