online: early 2001
modified: some weeks later in 2002, 31 march, 3, 4, 8 april 2005

early 2001

uncle Evan's précis of the internet and everyone

(so far he has reached page 46 of the printed edition - there are 562 pages in all)

My great great uncle T Evan Jacob (of the Old Mill, Rhyd-y-felin, near Aberystwyth), late scholar of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge, and principal of the Civil Service College, was the author of The life and times of Bishop William Morgan, translator of the Bible into Welsh (Rushwin Brothers, London 1890).

He also wrote Indexing and Précis Writing for civil service candidates (Macmillan and Co., London and New York 1896, fifth printing 1905). The writing of indexes and précis of correspondence was an essential part of the process of ruling colonies at a distance via sea mails and telegrams (the predecessor of the internet). The book is full of examples of such letters and telegrams, sent from British colonies to London, and vice versa, which the student is expected to summarise.

In writing this précis T E (as my mother called him,) is rigourously following the method prescribed in his book (for yes, jcj sees that he has the necessary strictness of a methodologist!).

Evan was the uncle of my maternal grandmother Mary Morris/Humphreys of Aberystwyth. My mother told me that he was a brilliant man, said to be a friend and speech writer of Benjamin Disraeli, but that fondness for women and drink was his downfall (but i wonder if that is what actually happened).

The book consists of 25 email letters to Tom Neville and Jonathan Moberly - and one or more attachments to each letter.

Uncle Evan's indexings and précis of the letters are in olive

his indexings and précis of the attachments are in black

titles and explanatory notes are in typewriter font

[parts of this piece that are still not clear are in gray - perhaps omit them on first reading?]

you can read full text of the electric edition (letters only), and obtain the printed edition (letters and attachments), at the internet and everyone

précis begins :

Uncle Evan decides that he cannot write a précis of the book until he has made an index of the letters and the attachments:

letter zero, 30 Jun 96, from jcj to Tom Neville and Jonathan Moberly - who invited him to write a book about the internet, to be published by ellipsis London

Announcing that the book will consist of 25 email letters, with attachments. The purpose is to explore a more fluid and connective way of thinking that the internet makes possible.

to index of letter one

attachment one, 'the internet as it was'

jcj describes his negative impressions of the internet of the nineteen-eighties and his positive impression now. He changed his mind when he realised that the internet enables anyone to write publicly without the cost of printing hundreds or thousands of copies.

attachment two, 'the unnamed something else (synopsis, part one)'

suggesting how that the internet can permit specialised jobs to be replaced by creative democracy - in which, with suitable software, anyone can do anything - provided that everyone changes perceptions and learns to 'let go' and to 'keep the centre empty'.

The synopsis, written before the book, is presented between sentences of William Wordsworth's poem 'Tintern Abbey', itself written in the protest against the mechanisation of life. jcj mixes prose and poetry to exemplify a new culture, 'the unnamed something else', that is becoming possible with the help of computernet.

letter one, 1 Jul 96, from jcj to Tom and Jonathan

Outlining his rough plan for the book - as a journey from the outer world as it is to an inner world of imagination - and then returning to the outer world with changed perceptions.

Mentioning imaginary people and worlds that may appear in the letters as he ignores, for these 25 days, his doubts and fears about 'things as they are' before he introduces the next two attachments.

to index of letter two - (not yet written)

attachment one, 'of all so many of us'

Anger at the policy of 'blaming the operator' for technical disasters that are predictable when equipment is being designed.

An operator cannot avoid the rare errors of skilled performance because they are unconscious. Only a beginner is conscious of every detail and that is why beginners act slowly, jerkily and unperceptively.

If this knowledge of how the nervous system operates were widely applied the rhythms of bodies and of machines would cease to interfere with each other and industrial living could become a joy not a stress.

A proposal for a de-specialised way of doing things via what jcj calls 'people-dependent technology'. With computer-assistance each person is expected to act with much more awareness, and effectiveness, than is possible for specialists. This requires everyone to pay more attention to others and to his or her self. It assumes large changes in culture and in the tempo of life.

précis to be continued when Uncle Evan is ready...

i n t e r l u d e

...some years later:

Uncle Evan wakes up to the implications of this book and notices that few of those living at the time of its publication seem to have understood it... he pauses to think how, from the afterlife, he might influence this situation... but first he takes a walk to revive his memories of Victorian and Edwardian London... and he takes a bottle of whiskey with which to renew his acquaintance with
Deon... he walks to his rendezvous he asks himself questions... what is the purpose of this précis, he asks... is it to enable the people who read it to realise that the future is in their hands?

and before continuing this attempt to guide another generation he reminds himself of what he wrote in his book for the guidance of civil servants in 1896:

...the Précis ... makes a ... demand on the mind, which has to hold before its eye, so to speak, the contents of not one letter or dispatch but twenty or thirty letters and dispatches...

...The excellence of the Précis consists in the due subordination of the unimportant to what is important; and this cannot be achieved unless the writer clearly appreciates the relative value of the content of the various documents he has to treat...

...The student will proceed to write his condensation, or Précis, of the papers before him, in the form of a narrative, couched in simple diction, and in a style from which all ornament, we had almost said all adjectives, are studiously excluded... the student should endeavour to piece together his narrative in such a way that it may appear, not a jerky collocation of disconnected clauses ... but a continuous and connected account of events and incidents told by himself in his own words.

31 march 2005: the author is waiting with curiosity to see what his ancestor is going to present as the important parts of this book - and how Evan's narrative might alter, in some way, the future of the internet and of everyone!...

...but as yet this is not as clear as might be expected of an expert in the writing of indexes and Précis!