☞ Enlightenment 2.0
Software and Web infrastructure for the Enlightenment of the Digital Age
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a trend I’ve been noticing around web technologies and services that rhyme with many of the institutions and ideals of the Enlightenment. These “Enlightenment 2.0” companies and websites recapitulate aspects of the Republic of Letters, coffeehouse culture, new ways of doing science, and much more.
Of course, this is likely because Web itself is so well-suited to the ideals of the Enlightenment. Here is Thomas Jefferson on the spread of ideas, anachronistically imbibing a lot of early Internet idealism:
That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point…
And so, because I love to make lists and taxonomies (cf. the Overedge Catalog), I’ve been compiling a list for these Enlightenment 2.0 organizations and companies (hosted on Notion). A sample:
Go check it out.
Of course, this list is far from complete. In many ways, I’m more interested in providing a sufficient number of examples to allow the reader to be able to triangulate on the exciting things that are happening in this space, rather than being entirely exhaustive. However, I do want more entries in this catalog. I need more examples of interesting book publishing experiments, new kinds of libraries (I had originally completely omitted the Internet Archive!), and even new types of educational institutions. And I’m sure there are even entire categories that I am missing. So please reply to this newsletter, or otherwise reach out, with suggestions.
Let’s build the Enlightenment 2.0.
I found the 1996 Annual Report for Maxis, the company that made SimCity. It is a wonderful little time capsule of the computer game industry, with some fun graphics and an astounding amount of excitement for its award-winning webpage.
A few things worth checking out:
Phasers on Stun! by Ryan Britt: A Fascinating history of the making of Star Trek (includes even the most recent Star Trek series).
Nature Rebounds: a report from 2015 by Jesse Ausubel, originally delivered as a talk at the Long Now Foundation.
Until next time.