Excerpt from a meeting between three fathers of multimedia and multilingual publishing: Gutenberg, Berners-Lee and Saint Jerome

The fellow met by the inventor of the printing press and the Patron of multilingualism is the creator of the Internet, Berners-Lee. While working on the Semantic Web, he still remains little known to the average Joe.

“Saint Jerome was amazed that
you are not well-known
by the general public
throughout the world,
whose fate
has been revolutionized by the Internet”

G. - Come forward, please come forward Sir Berners-Lee You cannot imagine how delighted I am to meet you: I had a heck of a time hunting you down in the Internet jungle, the great Web that you yourself have invented. Saint Jerome, patron saint of translation, with whom I now regularly find myself, has expressed the desire to meet the inventor of the Web. He was amazed that you are not well-known by the general public throughout the world, whose fate has been revolutionized by the Internet.

B.-L.- To be frank, Master Gutenberg, the surprise is all mine. Although ennobled in 2004 by the current Queen Elisabeth II of England, thanks to “my” invention, the Internet, my future immortality has not altered the fact that I am a professor working at the University of Southampton and still quite alive. Moreover, you too in your era, more than five hundred years ago in Mainz, were accepted by the (German) aristocrats.

G. - Yes, Your Excellence, I now know much about your scientific, strangely very reserved life which, paradoxically, the average Joe, who thinks he knows everything, is in essential or total ignorance about. I read the directions and the sheets – finally, thanks to your Internet’s web browsers, I came upon your truly extraordinary and innovative creations…

B.-L. - No more innovative than your printing press, which you invented all alone on the eve of the Renaissance and around fifty years before the discovery of the Americas. However, as an inventor, I am also indebted to the teamwork of the “Modern University and Entrepreneurial System”. His Saintliness Jerome spoke pertinently about the multipaternity of contemporary inventions.

“…your place is only second
to Einstein’s!”

G. - Don’t be modest, Sir Berners-Lee. I know that you signed off on publications with your collaborators. However, your blog, your sites, the one on W3C for example, and your chair at the university on the future “Semantic Web” are truly yours. Remember that Saint Jerome, who would like to meet you, loves humility and despises modesty… But, look who’s here.

Did you think, Your Saintliness Hieronymus, that today I would welcome you with the surprise – if I dare say so – that I told you about: I have the divine pleasure of presenting you Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, President of the World Wide Web Consortium and creator of the Cascading Style Sheets standard, the famous Website CSS.

J. - This is not the very first time that I have the privilege and honor to meet a common mortal who is still living. However, I have to recognize that this is the only time in my long existence which spans more than a thousand years, that I have homage paid to my Doctor of the Church ring by one of the greatest scientists in history. Me too, I can see that, in the twentieth century, your place is only second to Einstein’s!

B.-L.- Your Saintliness is too good and too laudatory…

“A teleology that must remain
within the laws of nature
(you might rather say divine laws)”

J. - No! I was even positively, very positively, impressed by your statements in which you, Sir Berners-Lee, very generously minimized the importance of your invention itself: in contrast to the scientific tendency of this era, in which man generally conceives himself as being without any limits, you humbly recognized that all websites, even the best ones, can never replace a well-organized library filled with books. As you can see, I have really read your writings.

B.-L.- Indeed, I am highly convinced of the eternal supremacy of books and content.
Discoveries for the future are always made by scientists and technicians of the past who have duly metabolized the methods and tools of technological civilization (and not only that). I even agree that these should be systematically subjected to a teleology – a possibility to develop, we moderns would say – that has to remain within the laws of nature (you would rather say divine laws).

J. - Sir Berners-Lee, you are ahead of my thoughts. Modern teleology is in no way contradictory to the research of science and reason. It indicates the natural limits to humans, who think about – as is often done in biology – changing the nature of life. But these problems are far from the Internet…

G. - I highly admire the Web you invented. It complements and exalts my printing machine beyond any imagination: today there is a little printing press on every desk. These media are multiplying – indeed, we are talking about multimedia – and printed material is within reach almost anywhere. At the lowest cost, with precision and quality that have no comparison. However, above all, it is reading, culture and knowledge that are finally becoming accessible to all people: Cosmic Knowledge Management within truly democratic reach.

B.-L.- To be honest, the origin of the Web was somewhat military…

J. - Sir Berners-Lee, you are also aware that the ways of the Lord are infinite and often astonishing…

“The Internet stakes combine
perfectly with the different continents’
economic globalization process.”

B.-L.- Your Saintliness, you are right: we quickly became aware, even before my transfer to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994, that the Internet and ICT stakes combine perfectly with the different continents’ economic globalization process.

G. - I also believe that this process of market globalization corresponds in an ideal manner to the cultural revolution that the printing press, my printing press, brought to the world as from the second half of the fifteenth century.
The free markets and the greatest competitiveness are now possible and evident thanks to the Internet.
Think, your Saintliness Hieronymus, about the marriage between multilingual content and multimedia support, which we have already discussed. If there is a temple where this marriage is celebrated daily, it’s definitely the Web, invented by Berners-Lee.

J. - That’s true. However, I also think about history which is often strange. It can already be said that your invention, the Internet, has done much more for the deprived people of the world than two centuries of class wars. everyone knows Marx and almost no one knows your name, your life and your work yet. And this is in our so-called era of communication!

“Other very grandiose
discoveries will
soon be made”

B.-L.- It really has to be said that we are only at the dawn of our globalized and telematically informed era. Other very grandiose discoveries will soon be made.

G. - All those who know you and who are aware of the extent of your research know this. At the great universities of the world and in countless companies where, in a humble and daily manner, people apply, verify and select the technological discoveries that your research has given to international know-how, you are followed meticulously. Don’t doubt it, my dear Berners-Lee.

“The content of the spread
of communication
can only be multilingual”

J. - For my part, I can assure you that the content of the spread of communication, which remains incomparable with what could have been achieved beforehand, can only be multilingual. I, myself the “great” polyglot of my era – between the fourth and fifth centuries – grow pale at the idea that currently there are at least fifty languages in what is called the economic logosphere of globalization. They can only double and then double again in the future.

B.-L.- I hope that my current research which I have been working on for some years, the Semantic Web, may become profitable before my inevitable disappearance into your admirable eternity: I am only in the sixth decade of my life…

The conversation between Berners-Lee, Gutenberg and Saint Jerome continues. We have unplugged the microphones compiling the words of these three historical specialists in content and communications technologies. Our three fathers of multilingual publishing and multimedia are still continuing their incredible conversation, as timeless as it is very grounded and pertinent.

January 2007

Fra Nico Ornato