Monday, 15 September 2008

Technology as a synapse

"Thinking" said GK Chesterton, "is making connections".

A while ago I was lucky enough to spend an hour or so with Sir George White, erstwhile master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, in their small and jewel-like museum in London's Guildhall Library. He patiently talked me through the evolution of time-keeping and it's importance. Two things I recall.

One was the simple premise that those navigators who knew the time knew their location. Knowing where they were allowed them to map, name and own. This premise undergirded the foundation of the British Empire and helps explain the importance of John Harrisons chronometer.

The other was the scarcity of the knowledge of time. Up until the 1940 Ruth Belville took a very old but highly reliable chronometer to Greenwich every morning to set it precisely. She then walked into the West End of London and sold the precise time to watchmakers for a few pennies, allowing them to correctly set the time of the clocks in their shop.

Yesterday I was at Lyme Park in Lancashire and came across a collection of clocks by Thomas Tompion, Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1703.

Sir George had told me of the importance of Tompion, and using the web I might have been able to connect Tompion or the museum with the collection at Lyme. The promise of the internet is connected knowledge, but we will always rely on people to help us make these connections.

Digitising and providing access to collections is one thing, but interpretation allows us to make connections.

Until the semantic web becomes a reality...

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