The idea and the internet

Gravure d'après un dessin de Augustin Coppens représentant la Grand-Place de Bruxelles après le Bombardement de 1695 par les troupes françaises de Louis XIV, de Vue du Marché aux Herbes vers la rue de la Colline et l'Hôtel de Ville (détail)

Image via Wikipedia

Among many unjust accusations, Brussels is considered a back-water of digital integration. We frequently hear that San Francisco, London, Tokyo, New York, Seoul are the digital cities and that Brussels will always be “a few steps behind.”

So it was with great happiness we read that Belgian Paul Otlet conceptualized the internet and World Wide Web long before a valley in California was named Silicon.

From the New York Times: In 1934, Otlet sketched out plans for a global network of computers (or “electric telescopes,” as he called them) that would allow people to search and browse through millions of interlinked documents, images, audio and video files. He described how people would use the devices to send messages to one another, share files and even congregate in online social networks. He called the whole thing a “réseau,” which might be translated as “network” — or arguably, “web.”

So he may not have connected actual computers, but if the idea came first, it is worth something.

And this should be an impetus to action to those of us in Belgium today, even though many people working in public affairs in Brussels would rather be in Barcelona. We should draw on Belgium’s internet pedigree with pride and place Brussels as a leader in the digital age.

In fact, you could argue that Brussels is most of the way there; it just doesn’t get the credit it deserves. The European Parliament website is far better than the US Congress website, and MEPs are writing blogs and joining social networks at a fast rate.

Furthermore, Google is opening its European centre in Mons, Belgium, as is Microsoft, discussed at length in The Bulletin (5 June, and ironically not available online).

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Jeff Weintraub
June 27, 2008 | 7:56 PM

"Paul Otlet conceptualized the internet and World Wide Web long before a valley in California was named Silicon." And we all thought it was Al Gore.