Thanks to everybody for being here. I am partly here to represent the academic world: both the digital, but also the academic. Everybody knows that the academic has a nickname which is the “ivory tower”. We are here to speak slightly about the ivory tower. Just as a small background -not because I want to tell you about myself, but because I want you to understand the perspective- I started as a pure mathematician, so, the very top of the ivory tower, where the pigeons are, up there. Then I moved a bit down: computer scientist -computer scientist because it was a very interesting field- and then the web appeared and it has been like bolts and lightening appearing, because the web has such an incredible potential and also because it touches the people, not just the ivory tower, but the people living out of the ivory tower.
So, it has been a slow decrease up from the heights of the tower down to the matters of the real people. So, have things changed? (because this was happening years ago). The situation has slightly changed, although almost zero changing. I would say we have passed from ivory tower to ivory castles, you know; there have been efforts of increasing the parts, the sum of the parts should be bigger than just the pure individual components. But it’s just castles. There have been efforts, previous efforts: probably you know about the network of excellence effort of the European community, which has been an interesting idea, but still, from one tower you have passed to a castle.
So, when I heard about Atomium, I have to say I have been very much excited because it prompted to me: it’s a bridge! It’s a bit like a bridge from the ivory castle with all the brilliant ideas and the knowledge locked inside, like polished rooms, and a bridge bringing results out to the society, to the people, so that people can get in and also people in the ivory castle can get out. So, it struck me as a bridge, as a new idea, if you want. How do you develop such a bridge? Partly, you use networks. Networks is the big nickname, the big modern word. The networks that Internet – also now the so-called modern Internet, the Web 2.0 – has, these social network things, Facebook, LinkedIn, that you can get in.
Atomium is different: it’s not like Facebook or LinkedIn. I could tell you why it struck me that Atomium has some peculiar characteristic: it’s a different kind of network. It has been studied, but only very recently.
Instead of giving you the boring details: the Wall Street Journal –yesterday’s copy which you also find online, it’s still online- there’s an article on page 14 about the Wednesday 10 social network: it’s a social network from the ’50s, 1957, over fifty years ago, it’s a real pity you cannot see the picture, but it’s online, I’ll be showing it this afternoon maybe. Because you can’t see the faces of these people, it’s all people over 80, as you can imagine, almost, but they have sparkling eyes and these people, a bunch of people, developed already in ’57 a different, a totally different kind of network for the time.
Just more reading: I give you the very quick explanation of why this team was very peculiar. “The Wednesday 10 comprised at various points more than twenty men; the goal was a number small enough to maintain intimacy – small enough, so not a huge network – yet large enough to ensure that at least ten members would show up every time: The Wednesday 10″; and Wednesday because every month, the first Wednesday of the month, these people were meeting up.
No more than two representative of any one industry were permitted; for the time it was a totally innovative concept: a network is usually networking of common people, common ideas. These people were saying “no – we don’t want common people”. The idea was to combat insularity, to keep the men connected to people and events outside their own professions. And Mr Robert Menschel, which is one of those sparkling eye persons here, Goldman Sachs Executive for over 55 years, said “it helped me to understand why other people do what they do, which is important in life and business”. You don’t learn anything from talking to sameness”.
This was one of the very important things that distinguished this new network for the time -1957 – and later they go on describing other features like the advantages to membership, but there were lot of advantages from this apparent strange thing, you don’t gather similar people, but you get to gather different people, which is something strange, to say the least.
So, we were saying “why Atomium struck me and struck you”, because we are all here. Because it has these different peculiarities: it’s not a flat network, like these online networks, where everybody can connect to anybody else. It’s more like a vertical network. Okay, you have islands of people, but can talk to different islands; castles but can talk to the people; it’s not a global network like the modern internet networks, where the value of the modern network is the bigger you are, the better you are. No, this network was kept small and it’s essential. Why? Because excellence is not broad. By definition excellence is a fraction, otherwise is diluted water: you cannot drink wine diluted with water. You can, but it doesn’t taste the same, of course.
And then diversity; we were talking about diversity of Europe. We are so lucky, but we have this diversity inside our structure, the European structure and that’s why also for instance the US researchers are not much ahead of European researchers, despite the differences in budgets and other things. Because we have diversity, we have much more to learn. This ‘57 people were keeping diversity as an essential feature and it’s also true here in Atomium.
Passion. These guys were saying to describe themselves: “we were ambitious and hard-working. If you were to skip two meetings: out”. It’s not like a normal network, a normal internet network, where you are in the network you have yet another star: I am in another network and then probably you don’t do anything. No, you need to do something. And I hope Atomium is also pursuing this: you need to be active, you need to want and to do something.
And then the last thing on the many advantages they were saying: “we were there because we also had the many advantages”. It is the case, it should be the case for Atomium as well, an essential component of any network, it’s not just the good will of the people; it’s also that I stayed there because I have some advantages, or, the society as a whole has some advantages. So, that’s also another thing that struck me.
So, I don’t want to take much more time because I know that I took more than my allowed time. I just want to conclude stating that close to the Venice region where I live, in Italy, at a certain period in history, some strange writings started to appear in the walls around Venice and also in the closer Venetian region: “less internet- written on the walls- more cabernet”. Well, in Italian it sounded similar, it sounds strange. Why, in an era where the internet is growing so much, people were writing this? You might think it was, I don’t know, older people writing this, old people writing “less internet, more cabernet”. No, it was mostly young people; the young people were writing this on the walls. Why? Because at that period in time the internet was something not so social, not so easy, rather difficult, a bit with some bureaucracy, if you want to say this way. And so they were complaining, they were seeing the potential, but complaining. Something was missing and they were protesting this way.
So, it is a similar situation, that we have experienced now with the ivory castle; so our future motto will be from “less internet, more cabernet” to “less ivory castle and more Atomium bridges”. Thank you everyone.