Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Beginnnings of the Computer and it's Internet

In the early 1900s, the flood of knowledge aggregation was compiled into an information highway that would culminate into the modern day computer. Beginning with minor advances in technology, many prototypes served as stepping stones to the now pocket sized electronics we own today. In 1934, Paul Otlet, has been credited as the forefather of the World Wide Web. His breakthrough ideas aided in setting the foundation for the present day internet. His ideas included a classification network that connected “links” based on similarity of context. His invention, the Mundaneum, that was a collection of over 12 million index cards, attempted to create a mass bibliography of all written works. With this type of system, students and advocates of knowledge would thrive in such a highly attainable and efficient method of searching out specific works.
Building upon this thought process; Vannevar Bush envisioned a machine, rather than paper, that could accomplish such a citation feat. Bush’s hypothetical Memex was anticipated as a machine that could simplify the gathering, storing and retrieving of data (McMahon). Each piece of data would be tied to each other by “trails” that would allow for backtracking and association. And maybe most imperative aspect of the Memex was the idea that knowledge should not fade. This idea of permanency of information that was created by the written word could now be elaborated and would allow for educating generations consistently. Bush desired this to be a personal machine, furthering the expertise and knowledge of each individual that uses it. He wanted to use collaboration as a catalyst for technological advancements and therefore conceptualized the two-way authoring system that allowed the creation and editing of material. This idea ensured that the teachings in education would be continually perfected, specialized, and updated.
Otlet and Bush’s innovative thinking and adaptations of networks within the system of information technology allowed for the eventual creation of personal electronics and the internet. More than 35 years ago the United States Defense created ARPANET (Advanced Research Project Agency) as a failsafe against a nuclear war. This initial prototype to the internet would protect government computers against a disaster by maintaining connections. In the 1970s and 80s, networks connected were increasing at a rapid rate, until in the early 90s, it would no longer be an exclusive governmental project but rather a worldwide affair.

The First University

The first appearance of the institutionalization of education came with Bologna’s university in the early twelfth century. Before this facility, all higher education was reserved for clergy or a small group of elite researchers. There were never tests and diplomas were not given. Any education of the masses was done informally and by specialized trade. With Bologna’s first traditional school, one can see many similarities to present day universities. There were set lecture times that spanned the course of the day. Due to the fact that students lacked books that were reserved for the teachers, notes were handed out during the class and there were designated times for questions and discussions over the handouts. Holidays were permitted within the schedule and, by 1219, degrees were awarded to those that had accumulated enough hours of study. Thus the establishment of the lecture based education emerged and would prove to be effective as evidence by its long standing existence since its adoption.
By the time the printing press emerged onto the scene more than 200 years later, universities were a common addition to most flourishing cities. This technology would revolutionize the process of educating. The abundance of knowledge was about to be matched with the same amassment of texts illustrating those very ideas. The quickness of the printing press afforded many with the ability to publish and circulate their ideas as well as offer opportunities to others to have access to this very information.

Nature Versus Nurture: Teaching our Young with Genetics or Culture

There are two ways in which we inherit traits: biologically and culturally. From an evolutionary perspective, the transmission of information is primarily done through genetics. Genes are the standard units of selection and the main mode of inheritance. The environment presents a species with problems and genetic adaptations eventually solve them. This process of genetic mutation is slow and can only be conducted from parent to child. The success of these solutions is evident in the health and quantity of the species’ offspring. Genetics play an integral part in the survival of every species in concerns with environmental pressures.
This “educating” of later generations through hereditary mutations can be seen in our own ancestry. As early humans moved from the tree filled jungles and ventured out into the flat woodlands, our postures became straight and our mobility bipedal. This evolutionary adaptation allowed for free hands and decreased the amount of the body that was exposed to the sun. This encouraged the carrying of foods and maintained lower body temperatures within the new, less than shady open plains.
Though biology plays a major role in transmitting information through genetics, some believe that culture may contribute to a greater degree. Unlike biological mutations that can take many generations to occur, cultural transmission of information can be done quickly. Information transmission is not restricted to parent-child patterns but can work in the reverse or can include non-familial transmission as well.
Social learning within a context of unique cultures has been a way of passing information throughout human history. With the assimilation to cultures, generations are taught societal norms, values, and beliefs that are continually passed down for centuries. Through the observations and participation in traditions and habitual celebrations one can learn much of what is needed for survival.