Maffs and the internets

Sorry it´s been a while – you know what public holidays are like!

Not only has it been far too long since my last post, but it has more specifically been far too long since my last post then even vaguely mentioned mathematics. While in a previous post I bemoaned my academic isolation here, in this post I would sort of like to counter this. You see, these days we have this marvelous thing called the internet. As you can imagine, if you´re studying a subject whose main currency is abstract ideas, a medium that facilitates the large scale exchange of ideas can only be a good thing. By no leap of the imagination am I the first person to have remarked on this, but it´s still worth reiterating.

Surprisingly in a (somewhat old – almost twenty years ago) paper I found the following wonderful passage.

we remark that this research adds to an ever-increasing testimonial to the powerful influence of electronic mail on the resolution of mathematical problems; indeed only 1 of the 3 = {3\choose2} pairs of authors has ever had the pleasure of meeting and, for the duration of this work, electronic mail provided the sole source of communication. One consequence of this is that the results in many cases were duplicated (even triplicated in some instances), and this was a constant source of delight for the authors as it provided frequent and welcomed confirmation.

I myself have actually published one paper with someone who, as far as I am aware, I have never even been in the same room as. Of course the ability to collaborate with strangers from afar is by no means the only impact the internet has had on mathematics, with numerous blogs, increasingly prestigious electronic journals, general purpose question-and-answer sights, a one-stop-shop for mathematical tricks, massively collaborative mathematics, an open forum for debate, the means of watching lectures elsewhere in space and time, some fun and of course preprint databases and many many many other things I´ve probably forgotten all gradually changing the rock face where mathematics happens.

Ultimately though, when push comes to shove, the mere act of being able to communicate with mathematicians, the humble medium of email, is surely the most significant impact the internet has had on mathematics. Certainly from the viewpoint of trying to do it in circumstances where there aren´t many others around such as in developing countries like Colombia.

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