I just read this fascinating article about Paul Otlet (b. 1868), a Belgian librarian who, in 1934, created a plan for a network of electronic telescopes that would allow people to search into and browse through millions of interlinked documents and images.This is a picture of his Mondaneum (mon-da-NAY-um) - his library and research operation. This images on the wall, I'm guessing, represent his graphic system to create symbol links between articles and pieces of information. There's a museum of his work in Mons, Belgium that's having its 10th anniversary right now.
And starting June 26, Whitney Museum is going to launch this big retrospective of Buckminster Fuller's career ("Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe") -- there was a great article about him in the New Yorker (June 9 &16,2008 issue).
Both failed in their careers, Otlet because the Nazi's invaded Belgium and destroyed his work, and Fuller, because of the failure of his inventions to work well -- but both men were visionaries whose visions have somehow captured our contemporary realities -- Otlet's vision which basically foresaw the web in a startingly specific concept -- and Fuller's concepts (albiet somewhat misguided) of an ecologically sustainable future in relation to technology, architecture and travel.
All of which makes me think about 20th century visions of the future and outdated futurisms. What is it that's so fascinating about looking back at these moments when the world was radically different than our own in terms of our individual relationship to technology and communication -- and seeing the seeds of our current gardens being planted. There's is strange kind of nostalgia and fascination for finding these citizens of present day reality marooned in some early time, trying to build their time machines into our current day or even future day world -- things we take for granted were pipedreams for them -- hallucinatory romps.
In the NYTimes article about Otlet, the writer keeps trying to say that Otlet would have been confounded by Facebook or overwhelmed by today's web - which strikes me as totally ridiculous to posit -- why wouldn't they have been interested or just disgusted by it? But I guess it's normal to want to reverse the time-trip back on them...