May 2013

The Wonderful Web of Oz

Did L. Frank Baum anticipate the Internet in 1920?

I’ve been reading some of the Oz books to my little girl. These are great magical fairy tales and are available in the public domain and easy to find online. Glinda of Oz is the last of 14 that L. Frank Baum wrote himself, and was published posthumously. (His publisher later put out another 26 Oz books by other authors.)

Early on in Glinda we encounter this passage which made me do a double-take:

“[Dorothy] ran over to a big table on which was lying open Glinda’s Great Book of Records.

This Book is one of the greatest treasures in Oz, and the Sorceress prizes it more highly than any of her magical possessions. That is the reason it is firmly attached to the big marble table by means of golden chains, and whenever Glinda leaves home she locks the Great Book together with five jeweled padlocks, and carries the keys safely hidden in her bosom.

I do not suppose there is any magical thing in any fairyland to compare with the Record Book, on the pages of which are constantly being printed a record of every event that happens in any part of the world, at exactly the moment it happens. And the records are always truthful, although sometimes they do not give as many details as one could wish. But then, lots of things happen, and so the records have to be brief or even Glinda’s Great Book could not hold them all.

Glinda looked at the records several times each day, and Dorothy, whenever she visited the Sorceress, loved to look in the Book and see what was happening everywhere. Not much was recorded about the Land of Oz, which is usually peaceful and uneventful, but today Dorothy found something which interested her. Indeed, the printed letters were appearing on the page even while she looked.

‘This is funny!’ she exclaimed. ‘Did you know, Ozma, that there were people in your Land of Oz called Skeezers?’”

An endless stream of entertaining and abbreviated text updates, compulsively checked many times a day, in anticipation of a serendipitous discovery? Does that not remind you of the web? The letters appearing on the page in real time even call to mind the old 2400 baud modem of my youth.

Recovering myself, it seems the Great Book of Records really is, as it sounds, more of an auto-magical newspaper or census. More telex than Web 2.0.

But soon after we learn that Glinda is also an apparatus of the State, a benevolent enforcer through her limited monopoly on magic. The Book of Records, it turns out, is a tool of total surveillance as much as discovery. Which, in a way, anticipates another side of the Internet as well.

>  29 May 2013 | LINK | Filed in
Wonky and outrageous campaign tips from recent Oxfam successes.
>  28 May 2013 | LINK | Filed in
So after we lick the war on terror, we can just reuse that whole intelligence infrastructure to win the war on bridge rot, right?
>  24 May 2013 | LINK | Filed in ,
“The cake map showed wastewater plants in M&Ms & why the sludge barge is needed. Then they ate the cake. It was delicious.”
Counter Cartographies with Lize Mogel
>  16 May 2013 | LINK | Filed in , ,
Corollary to Godwin's Law: any conversation among more than four New Yorkers, meeting for the first time, eventually turns to the G train.
>  12 May 2013 | LINK | Filed in ,
Can we have an API to the FOIA backlog under the new @whitehouse Open Data Initiative?
>  10 May 2013 | LINK

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