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Post Why Do Historians Write? Toynbee's "Ethereality"; From Gary Moore
Created by John Eipper on 05/15/17 3:07 PM

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Why Do Historians Write? Toynbee's "Ethereality"; From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA, 05/15/17 3:07 pm)

Gary Moore writes:

JE asked a a great question (Tim Brown, 15 May), with maybe a key to the future: What drives WAISers to contribute our small bits to discussion--and hence to history (the outside world does read it: I was recently found by a documentary project that saw me on WAIS, and I originally found WAIS in a similar way).

The profundity in John's question is not in any answer, but in the mere presence of the phenomenon. In the 1940s, historian Arnold Toynbee noted something that the science fiction writers and futurists massively missed--the implication that technological progress does not tend toward more and better of the same (like bigger Jetson flying Super-Cars with fins, or Flash Gordon ray guns that are only better versions of the Colt 45). Instead, Toynbee pointed out "ethereality." The more the technology boom snowballs, the smaller and more invisible become the advances. And he was writing this before the computer, or even the transistor--the biggest proofs of all.

There is indeed a mystical-seeming element in the human journey that would seem to both confirm and refute religion, a forward-moving synergy between the devices we create and that inexplicable x-factor called self-expression. As the Information Age caught fire, who would ever have predicted advances like... karaoke, where the machine sophistication is wedded to that old x-factor, the human desire to express, to embody some idea of the beautiful or to feel the swelling importance of communication--however one phrases it. And who would have predicted, as the Information Superhighway went into overdrive, the incredible potency of....YouTube, where the sheer force of millions of individual wills enshrines a historical archive of video images--not for material profit, often not even for personal fame, but because the essence drives the contributors to contribute, an essence that pulses at the interface where our individual selves spark with the great collective. This synergy is outside our knowledge constructs, something we can only marvel at as it unfolds, like watching the blooming of a rose.  Toynbee's "ethereality" implies (and the cyber-age has proved his prescience) that the eventual direction might lead to the final, "smallest" leap--beyond any kind of gadgets and into real understanding of the workings of the mind.

But then, euphoric futurists have been wrong a thousand times before. There is the suggestion in this explosion we are undergoing, as outwardly invisible and unruffled as an individual face lost in thought--that human evolution is something beyond the simplistic mechanisms of the most doctrinaire Darwinism. How is it that, as if by pre-arranged signal (or by the meeting of maturational milestones), we are creating all these things for the benefit of powers in ourselves that we don't even comprehend?

Within this great flood of questions lies the thrill of participating in WAIS.

JE comments: Yes!  I'm going to crib some of Gary Moore's thoughts for a Why WAIS? section on our homepage.

Personal fame does come to some YouTubers (Justin Bieber), but Wikipedia illustrates Gary Moore's point even more clearly.  How many famous Wikipedians can you name?  Exactly.  I've made the point before that Wikipedia is as close to a Utopian project as humanity has ever seen:  that people will catalog all human knowledge not for personal gain, but for the enrichment of all.

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