“Eventually, Otlet suggested, on the work desk there might be no books or other documents at all, but only a screen and a telephone. Somewhere outside, regardless of distance, would be
an immense edifice containing all the books and the information, together with all the resources of space needed to record and manage them, with all of its apparatus of catalogues, bibliographies and indexes, with all the information redistributed on cards, sheets and files, and with search and retrieval [literally: selection and combination] performed by an appropriately qualified permanent staff (p. 428).
The work station would be connected to this centre by telephone, wireless telegraphy, television and telex ( “teleaugraphie” – elsewhere, p. 237, Otlet discusses “telephotographie,” which seems to be kind of telefacsimile transmission). The user would simply automatically call up on the screen the document or documents he or she wanted. The machine itself would operate one or more screens – as many as were necessary – rather like electronic windows, to allow the simultaneous consultation of as many documents as might be desirable. A loud speaker would give an extra, auditory dimension to the system and would allow text to be accompanied or augmented by sound. Effective consecutive transmission of information in the system would depend on the materials on which it depended having been recorded analytically in such a way that they could be automatically manipulated by “selection machines” (p. 428).
In another context Otlet (1935) describes what he envisages in such a way that it is clear he is has in mind what we might now call virtual reality machines. He foresees the emergence of
a machinery unaffected by distance which would combine at the same time radio, x-rays, cinema and microscopic photography. All the things of the universe and all those of man would be registered from afar as they were created. Thus the moving image of the world would be established -- its memory, its true duplicate. From afar anyone would be able to read any passage, expanded or limited to the desired subject, that would be projected onto his individual screen, Thus in his armchair, anyone would be able to contemplate the whole of creation or particular parts of it (p. 390-1).
- “Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868-1944) and Hypertext,” by W. Boyd Rayward from the Journal of the American Society for Information Science vol 45.
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