The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Tim Berners-Lee
Mentoring is not a new concept. It dates back to ancient Greece times. The word mentor originates from the Greek to think or counsel. Mentors shared their wisdom and experiences with proteges who in return freshened and strengthened the mentors own work. Both inspired each other as both recognised that they could learn a great deal from each other within this traditional closed society. The great thinkers of ancient Greece sowed the seeds of formalising the mentoring process.
With the fall of Ancient Greece it wasn’t until the Italian Renaissance that the roots of mentoring took hold with the introduction of the apprentice system of the Middle Ages. Again it was the support of wealthy patrons of the age such as the Medici family that enabled the best apprentices to be selected to become proteges to mentors. With time solely practical gave way to practical and philosophical which finished in the 19th century as solely philosophical. Specialisation became the order of the day and remained so for much of the 20th century.
Throughout history access before ability has been the way of the world across many walks of life. However all of that changed when Tim Berners-Lee combined HTML with URLs and came up with the World Wide Web. This has given birth to a new age of enlightenment. We are seeing a swing back to equilibrium with the return of practical and philosophical mentoring. Unlike previous ages of enlightenment this one will be the first based on an open system.
It is starting to show early signs of acceptance within the academic community. MIT lead the way with its MIT Open Learning Initiative. Harvard University, Stanford University, University of Michigan, the New York Public Library and Oxford University have enrolled in the Google Print Library Project. This in turn has sparked a digitisation program by Microsoft who have partnered with the British Library. Stanford University recently launched a pilot program to make audio content of lectures available. The Internet is enabling people from all corners of the world to access information which was previously only accessible by those who were fortunate enought to be given access to it. As history has repeatedly shown nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. That time is now. More to follow …
UPDATE 2 : Brewster Kahle joins the conversation