Paul Otlet described a system of networked computers—or “electric telescopes”—that would allow people to search through millions of interlinked documents, images, audio and video files. As the network spread, he foresaw it uniting individuals and institutions of all stripes—from local bookstores and classrooms to universities and governments. He dubbed the whole thing a réseau mondial: a “worldwide network.”
In one remarkably prescient passage, he wrote:
Everything in the universe, and everything of man, would be registered at a distance as it was produced. In this way a moving image of the world will be established, a true mirror of his memory. From a distance, everyone will be able to read text, enlarged and limited to the desired subject, projected on an individual screen. In this way, everyone from his armchair will be able to contemplate creation in its entirety or in certain of its parts.
Who was Paul Otlet?