I hope Gelernter is right and we are in a relatively short phase of the developing internet where we care most about the now and less about the accretion of knowledge in our and others’ past. So in the future we might look at the stream of things that people have done, rather than their updates today (right now this second) to get a more nuanced feel. And the vision of putting software to use to help navigate these vast streams is lovely. Let’s hope it can be done.

It feels a bit like my distinction between horizontal and vertical subjects. You can learn a reasonably fluent third or fourth language by reusing the existing language skills you developed in your first or second (horizontal: knowledge adds to a pool of understanding which is picked up as needed). This isn’t often the case in science, where you need such extraordinarily detailed knowledge to be current with thinking in any particular speciality, that very few people can credibly be at the forefront of even two disciplines in chemistry, let alone one in chemistry and physics (a vertical subject: each bit of understanding builds on the previous one to help you dig a bit deeper into the world we live in)