Strahinja

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Personal notes on startups, science and life.

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Immediate Access to Contemporary Knowledge

The story goes something like this:

The year is 1805, and the place is the city of London. It rains while a young man, just 14 years old, stands on one side of the Blandford Street road.

Having only the most basic school education, he is doubtful and excited at the same time to cross the street. The building across him holds the sign that says: George Riebau, bookbinder. Knocking on that door will change his life forever, but coming from a low-income family left a burden on his small shoulders in a big city and conservative society.

However, curiosity wins, and young Michael enters his 7-year bookbinding apprenticeship - and he doesn't just bind the books; he reads them.

What kind of books does young Michael read? Books like Isaac Watts's The Improvement of the Mind, or Conversations on Chemistry by Jane Marcet. He eagerly implements the principles from what he learns and develops an interest in science.

Long story short, at the age of 20 and the end of his apprenticeship, Michael attends lectures by the eminent English chemist Humphry Davy.

It is said that Michael sent Davy a 300-page book based on notes that he had taken during these lectures and that Davy's reply was immediate, kind, and favourable.

Jumping 30 years ahead, Michael Faraday went on to become one of the most influential physicists in the history of science. Without a strong background in mathematics and high education, he was able to create the basis for the electromagnetic field.

Even though he was a fascinating character himself, and I encourage everyone to read more about the man - this article is not about the person, but the craft - bookbinding.

Michael Faraday, Bookbinding and the Importance of  Immediate Access to Contemporary Knowledge

I believe that Michael Faraday overcame his social background and became a success by choosing the best career path available for a working-class teenager at the beginning of the 19th century.

We are now close to the year 2020, and it looks like career advice stays the same. However, you probably noticed that there are not many bookbinders around anymore. The fact is that the bookbinding itself doesn't matter. What matters is having immediate access to knowledge, preferably immediate access to contemporary knowledge.

On a grand scale of history, the most significant change that happened in the last two centuries since Michael was a teenager is directly related to the access to knowledge. It's simple, and it's called the internet.

The funny thing is that it seems that many people are not aware of the advancement and the leap we made as a civilization. In two centuries, we (almost) fully democratized access to contemporary knowledge of any topic you can come up with.

It doesn't matter who your parents are and where you come from, as long as you have an internet connection.

Here's what I think young Faraday would advise every child in the 21st century:

  1. Go to school to learn basic English (in case you're not from an English speaking country)

  2. I don't know how, but find a way to get a Kindle or a similar e-reader device - a used one, and a cheap model will work just as fine for the start

  3. Go to http://gen.lib.rus.ec

  4. Conquer the world

I was having second thoughts about the second step because nowadays you can read on a laptop or a cheap tablet/smartphone, but I think that to gain maximum value from it you need to constrain the act of reading to just one device.

Regarding the third step, I will skip the debate about the ethics of privacy and go with the flow and the fact that the books are available. The knowledge is there; you only need to pick it up. Once you get a start on a topic, you can go to sci-hub and similar sites to take a sneak peek on the scientific articles. Old ones and the new ones. All of them.

To conclude, I just wanted to remind myself and the others of a straightforward concept, that we forgot amid easy-to-consume social feeds, Netflix and chill, and spooky Google algorithms. It is the immediate access to contemporary knowledge. If you're reading this, you have it so go get it.

Michael Faraday would want you to get it all.


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