ABOUT PEOPLE'S RESEARCH CENTER
An introduction to People's Research Center, including the Early Pre-History of the World Wide Web.
By Tom Booth
The concept for People's Research "Center", emerged during a series of meditations which began back in the mid 1970's.
The idea behind this "Research Center" was difficult to explain at the time even to myself... but the "center" would not be a Building with a physical location and not an organization of any kind in the conventional sense, with charter and by-laws but a reserch "network" who's actual "center" or physical location would be in everyones living room, back yards and local communities. Today, the "World Wide Web" has made this concept a partial reality. Wherever you are right now, reading these pages, you are "in", People's Research center.
People's Research Center right now is simply the network of people accessing these pages who are interested in taking part in various cooperative research projects.
It dawned on me... during my meditations back in the 70's that to succeed in transforming and enlightening the world... something like the World Wide Web would be needed.
This network would be constructed so that it could be used in a certain way. It's function would be built into its structure.
A tool, no matter how well designed, is of little use if its true purpose remains unknown. For example... a hammer may seem to be a very useful tool as a paper weight or door stop... Someone might even make it into a "better" doorstop or paperweight by removing and discarding the handle! The handles purpose may not be apparent until the tool is seen in its proper relation to nails, wood, architecture, other tools of the carpentry trade and so forth.
From about 1975 onward the development of this computer based research network became my life long goal. I became a recluse of sorts... for years I did nothing but read, research, and write personal letters to any individuals who would listen as well as organizations, universities, and government agencies.
At first I felt very much alone in this QUEST as touching some IDEAL world lying in potential behind the physical world of our senses. But in time I found that what Marilyn Ferguson described as "The Aquarian Conspiracy" was more than just a metphore... and I was becoming part of it. If not already, one of its ringleaders... This Vision of world transformation was very strong and clear to me on a subconcious, non-verbal level especially while in a state of deep meditation, but at other times it was difficult to grasp on an intellectual or practical waking level. It was a vision of a world with people engaged in all sorts of cooperative projects... building and improving things, doing important research and MANIFESTING IDEALS.
That hidden potential reality of the world the way it really could be left a deep and lasting impression.
I spent much of my time seaking out, researching and visiting "alternative" commuities which came closer to manifesting in real life the ideals I had seen in my visions. Closer, that is than the cities and towns I grew up and lived in.
Though the IDEAL often became obscured by the hardships of day to day living,... Working to pay rent and pay bills... etc. repeatedly returning to that meditative state and that visionary world eventually made it seem possible to shorten and sometimes even bridge the gap between the potential and the real, and understand how to apply what I could see and feel in meditation to transform THIS world rather than simply escape from it.
Drawing forth the hidden potential of what our wourld could be become my personal goal for the next 25 intervening years. This was not a goal to build another new religion or another "alternative community" but to find ways to transform the communities, the cities and towns, in which most people actually live.
People's Research Center is not the vision. Not the ideal world, but is intended as a transformative tool for getting from here to there, From the world as we perceive it today... to the world the way it could be... not just for some of us as individuals in private meditation... but collectively.
I believe this vision has been echoed in many other hearts and minds at different times and places and in many different ways. My own interpretation of the vision seems to resonate with that of Stuart Brand who spoke of his similar (or is it the same?) vision in his epilog to the Whole Earth Catalog.
Lessons From the Counter Culture
The most successful of the various "Alternative Communities" and "UTOPIAS" that emerged from the 60's counter culture had one important thing in common. Good communication.
You can not have a common goal without common agreement about that goal. Most of these "intentional" communities started out with more planning, more discussion and debate between members and more general common agreement than I would ever hope to have with my neighbors in most any town or city today. You can't reach any real CONSENSUS without good communication and that communication must be on a personal level, that is... it must address and involve each individual not just the community at large or a partcular segment of it.
The most effective communities were, and still are, those that had (or have) some means for each individual to communicate their ideals and needs to the rest of the group on a more or less continual basis as well as a means of implementing those ideals and utilizing individual skills towards the attainment of agreed upon goals.
Historically, these experimental communities of the 60's and 70's counter culture had many points in common with the experimental communities and governments of the early settlers. which were equally experimental, rebelious against conventional authority, and to some degree patterned or modeled after native tribal practices.
But how might these successfull early community or "tribal" based ideals for social organizing find wider application? How could communication normally taking place in a small community or group setting in the form of meetings, face to face conversations, bulletin board posts (literal wood and cork bulletin boards), brainstorming sessions... or the "Gathering at the village Green" or even the tribal council be applied on a very broad scale to the world at large?
These were questions being asked at a time when computer networking was virtually unheard of. Back then, it may have been possible to plug into the WELL and a few other developing computer networks by long distance, (and usually very expensive) phone calls, or join the Electronic Frontiers Foundation... but these were not things that were widely known or subscribed to at that time.
It was one thing to achieve a high level of communication and agreement within a small group,... To achieve the same thing within society or the world at large... (without a computer network)... would have required, at that time, a tremendous amount of printed material. To communicate effectively at great distances, surveys or some other printed material would have to be distributed, collected and analyzed on a massive scale. A massive and regular distribution of surveys and other printed material was not the immediate answer as at that time the ongoing destruction of the rainforests... largely for the production of paper was of great concern, (as it still is today). I, for one, did not want to contribute to this destruction in any way if it could possibly be avoided.
My first goal, and the first goal of People's Research Center became the development of a World Wide communications network that did not depend on printing with paper and ink.
The rationale for a "World Wide Web" largely originated frome these environmental concerns. as well as financial concerns. Phone calls (The only other form of long distance communication available at that time) were too expensive as would be printing and postage costs for such a massive amount of far ranging communications.
A world wide public computer network was in-visioned as a means of implementing the lessons learned through the social experiments of the 60's and 70's. For cultural well being and human happiness on a broad scale a more effective and inexpensive means of comunication would be needed. The growing consensus of at least one segment of the "New Age" counter culture community turned on the idea that computer networking would be the "Village Green" of the future.
It was, I believe, not just my own, but part of a collective vision.
One Ideal, still in its infancy, is to have this computer network running more or less exclusively on Alternative Energy. At this time, I know of only two Web Hosting Service powered by Solar Energy Solar Host and one other at Stelle Community. There are, of course, many individuals producing their own power with wind and solar or other renewable energy who also happen to have a computer hooked into the net. The ideal however would be for everyone hooked up to the Web to power their computer with independent renewable energy or "Green" Utility power.
Inspiration from the Rainbow Family
One of the "successful" communities was, or is, the Rainbow Family of Living Light. Due to meeting together on public land the communications of this "Tribe" are on a broader scale than any localized community. The long distance communication, for the Rainbow Family, takes the form of a Community Guide.
While attending a Rainbow Gathering you may fill out an application to have your name, address and phone number, along with a brief paragraph about your interests, projects, ideals, hobbies, etc. included in the Guide.
The applications are taken together and worked up into a booklet, the Guide is then printed and distributed at the next gathering.
In the mid 80's a few old copies of the Rainbow Family Guide were given to me by an associate and became the inspiration for the "Personal Home Page" on the "World Wide Web".
In the handbook you could only express a few lines about yourself... but it was invisioned that with a computer network, what was represented by each personal entry in the Guide, could be expanded almost without limit. You could give full expression to your thoughts and ideals,... talk about your projects... provide photographs... whatever you wanted... as well as having full control to maintain it yourself... all without a printing press, paper and ink or any great expenditure of money.
It was not until about 1990 that the oportunity presented itself to have these ideas translated into reality. I received a phone call from a computer programmer who had received a copy of one of my letters and was interested in working on the project. We had a long conversation about People's Researh Center and computer networking. The current domain name system we have today was based in part on my own file system that I worked out to locate reference material on my own computers. It was during this conversation that we decided on many of the basic elements that are a part of the World Wide Web today... for one... The name "World Wide Web", hyperlinks, html, the domain name system, the various browser functions, the general structure of the network itself... Translation services for international communication... search engines using key words to locate information... the form in which search engine results would be returned... TV-set top internet access boxes... to ensure that access to this network would be affordable... All these things and much more were discussed and worked out in detail.
These were some of the private debates, discussions and early inspirations that led to the development of the "World Wide Web" as we know it today.
So much for early origins... The problem with the Web today, now that it actually exists... is that it isn't a compact HANDBOOK like the Rainbow Guide. You can not view two dozen or more entries (or "homepages") at a glance as you can the individual listings in a small handbook. The web is not divided into categories... by region, topic, personal interest or function, or any other categories...
The idea, or one of the ideas behind the Rainbow Guide involved finding like minded people to collaborate with; so as to organize various projects and group activities. Agreement or "consensus" was considered "magickal" according to some of the Rainbow Family. When a group of like minded people could get together,... people who could truely AGREE and reach a consensus, such a group might work miracles.
This was to be a Magickal Revolution.
The web, however, was never actually organized,,,. for the simple reason that you have to have something there before you can organize it. The Dewey Decimal system for organizing library books, for example, did not come until after books and libraries were a long standing reality... The rainbow guide itself was organized on the basis of the applications received... It could not be pre-determined exactly what content would be organized until the content became available.
Today, in terms of finding like minded people on the internet, you might get lucky and happen accross a website put up by someone with ideas and ambitions similar to your own... but you cannot generally go to a specific section of the internet to look for such a person or website... as you might go to a special section of a library to look for a particular book.
It is difficult to establish permanency in terms of any kind of collaborative project where the people who might be interested on working together are spread out all over, come and go at random, generally don't know each others real names or locations, and only run into one another by accident... As it is.. it is quite difficult to establish and maintain GROUP GOALS on the internet... for the simple reason that it has never been organized that way, or for that purpose, but the potential has always been there lying dormant... built into the framework of the thing like that handle on the hammer being used for a doorstop... available but never utilized.
The intangable ideal of a "People's Research Center" spawned the web, existed before it and has continued to develope alongside it for the past ten years since 1990. The primary intention was for the internet to develop into a means of lending permanency to various projects and ideas or VISIONS of that POTENTIAL for a better world... Those hopes and dreams that might otherwise evaporate as quickly as they were inspired.
An idea, or a "project" based on that idea... can be a bridge between the world the way it is and the world the way it could be.
In a small community with a high level of agreement and communication, fleeting inspirations might, sometimes, get recognition by the group, be written down, discussed and evenually implemented. Communities that made a habit of doing this were often greatly successful. The Web, at least in part, was intended as a means of doing the same thing on a grater scale.
People's Research Center is intended to be the missing ingredient for making the internet a functional communications system for worthwhile collaborative projects. Something like a Dewey Decimal System for the internet, to organize it along the lines of its origional purpose.
The purpose of People's Research Center then, is to help bring creative forces and ideals down to earth for practical application in the greater community. Your ideas and Your creative inspirations in Your local community.
It is a "place" where the individual can put something on the agenda and, perhaps, make it a REALITY for everybody. A way to take up the hammer and build!
It has been a long time in the making... and there is an even longer road ahead.
Hope you enjoy.
People's Research Center Projects