Charles Babbage – you started it…

These are exciting times we live in I think.  Hands up all those who regularly moan about technology and about how at the most inopportune moment it decides to let us down and refuses to co-operate.  OK, everybody who has ever used technology you can put your hands down now.  I confess I am also one of them but really when you come to think of it how wonderful technology can be.  I started writing about local history many years ago when one’s only sources of reference were books (you know those papery things with words written in them).  I would take myself down to the local library – or the library that would have been local to my particular subject – and trawl through old documents, directories, wills, certificates and maps.  I would scour any material at all that might give up a bit of information, and it was time consuming work. Or I would buy books – biographies or histories that might have some details I might have missed somewhere else.  Second-hand bookshops were a favourite haunt – and I picked up some gems – biographies and collections of letters, sometimes a book would merely mention my subject in a paragraph somewhere about something unrelated – and – there we have it – a window in to the soul, the real person.

I was not looking to glorify or celebrate my subjects. While I do revere them all, I set out to reveal them.  I wanted to know if they were prone to tantrums or misery, were they thumb-suckers, teddy huggers, mummy clingers, daddy worshippers.

Now – thanks to technology, bless its little electronic socks, a vast, and perhaps ultimately unreadable amount of information is out there ready to be harvested by curious minds.  It is as though the people of the world have said that they hold some information – sometimes apparently insignificantly small – that someone else might be interested in – and by doing so we, collectively have avoided losing forever the sense of soul of our ancestors– just maybe.

Perhaps when Charles Babbage set out to create the difference engine he intended merely to correct tables of logarithms, and to improve the accuracy of calculations. Actually I doubt one could ever use the word “merely” when talking about the extraordinary mind of Mr. B.  Indeed Ada Byron, his assistant, postulated that such machines as they were working on might one day be capable of creating graphics or even music – and I suspect that this would have been the subject of debate between them often.  They might have conjectured, that one day there might be a plastic box on everyone’s desk with annoying software that drives you to the brink of technological destruction, but that might be taking it a bit too far! But they must surely have gone some way down that road – theirs was not an easy path to get the machine even built, let alone working the way they had envisaged.

I love my subject and I love writing and thanks to this pesky technological voodoo I can express it widely and (relatively) easily.

So, technology, do whatever voodoo you do do and let’s keep adding to the sum of human knowledge.  Thank you , Mr. Babbage.

Read my book: Charles Babbage from the beginning

Kindle edition available from:  Amazon

Paperback edition available from: Amazon

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