From WW2 to WWW.

I love history. It is my favorite subject. I recently met someone who told me that they didn’t think studying or learning history was useful at all and that it was a waste of time and unimportant.  I couldn’t believe him! I tried explaining to him how to understand, appreciate and make sense the present world of today, and predict the world of tomorrow, we need to study the patterns and events in history that led us here.

Which makes me think of how the invention of computing and the internet was based largely on war, security, and fighting communism; despite how unlikely that sounds.  History is like a choose your own adventure book or long trail, like you may choose to go left instead of right and you don’t realize the consequences of that action now, but its ripple effect will be felt a century later. It also makes me think of all the people that worked on different prototypes, equations, and theories that were a small (but integral) step towards the computers and internet we know today, but who died before its heyday and never got to see the fruits of their labor, or even know what exactly it was they were apart of. It reminds me of the line from Hamilton, “What is a legacy? Planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”

What all the genius minds working for the military industrial complex never maybe fully realized is how computing and the internet would virtually transform a litany of facets in modern life, way beyond security and warfare.  This makes me think a lot about fate and just what makes a person themselves. Why they were born in the time if history they were, with the skills and interests, and the right place and time for their talents to intersect with the pendulum of history at precisely the right nano second that they are able to transform in one way or another the course of human history. Like the sentimental part of me likes to think it was some sort of fate or near supernatural circumstance, but even if it was 100% totally random, chaotic, meaningless reasons why they were who they were and just happened to be at the right place and time due to a whim, isn’t that kinda just as special and fascinating?  That despite the universe’s cold indifference to any individual, these people like Montgomery Meigs, Max Weber, Vannevar Bush, and Claude Shannon carved out their niche and that because of it human lives will forever be impacted by them.

I am not a believer in what one of my favorite podcasters, Dan Carlin, calls “One man history”, also called “Great man theory. That is that when studying history, you tend to find eras and events focused around one individual, Napoleon or Julius Caesar for example. But that isn’t intellectually honest, although as practical and simple it may make studying history; it’s simply not true. There would be no leaders, movements, wars, revolutions, etc, if it was not for the nameless masses of people who supported, followed, and influenced them.  So while there has been many great men and women who have moved history, and in this case technological developments forward, it would be foolish and inaccurate to forget about the lab assistants, parents, teachers, etc whose names are now forgotten to history that were instrumental in forging ICT revolution.

Posted: February 7th, 2018
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