I often reflect what it would have been like to live at the beginning of history, when experience, information, the past itself was in short supply. I’m sure it didn’t feel like that, and that Adam and Eve considered yesterday’s breakfast as a precedent, if not a landmark. Sometimes it feels as though we do the opposite: we live almost at the end, with overwhelming quantities of history around us. Is there more behind than in front? No one knows.
I think this sitting at my computer, having just Googled the name of a plant too new in cultivation to be in a reference book, and found reports on its performance from nine different locations; indeed a lively exchange about its value and needs between plantsmen in four different parts of France. It all makes such well-used formulae as ‘sun or part shade in a well-drained, moisture-retentive acid to neutral soil’ sound very much like history. On the internet you can not only learn from current experience; you can participate. Nobody will appreciate it much if all you can add is ‘Mine died’, but there is room in cyberspace for everyone’s contribution.
The temptation is to indulge idle curiosity and lose the thread of your enquiry. Why ‘cyber’?, was my next thought. ‘Cybermen’ come into being in the 1960s with Doctor Who, but cybernetics is apparently earlier, in the 1940s; cyber as a prefix coming from the Greek for a helmsman, kubernetes. ‘Government’ has the same root.
It’s so easy. Don’t trust Wikipedia, people say. Not, perhaps, on matters of opinion or personal detail. For etymology you’re on pretty safe ground. And a cyber gardener can generally judge whether he’s seeing a nursery trying to sell him a plant or another gardener sharing his delight or frustration.
What is not so easy is tearing yourself away. Which is more important, looking up your plants or going out to watch them grow?