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As We May Think – Vannevar Bush

It’s astounding – Bush’s prescience.  In this essay you can see so many kernels of the information age.

The increasing pace of information collection in 1945 can not be compared to our 21st century experience of self published authoring, a landslide of blog posts every day, the extraordinary specialization of news media  as the ability to put words into the ether becomes simpler and veritably free.  Nonetheless, Bush’s basic understanding of the need to access and connect information in order to transform it into a knowledge base has become the most fundamental precept of our contemporary media landscape.

The complexity of the mechanics of his Memex perhaps thrill me the most.  The analog idea of storing vast amounts of data on tiny pieces of film which are retrieved by a series of wheels and cables is genius, but feels like something from a Jules Verne novel now.  That is not to say that our present day systems of transmitting 1’s and 0’s in a hyper web of microscopic switches is less so – naturally the opposite.  The Memex is a machine that on principle the layman can understand.  The connections are on a  physical scale a human being can relate to.

Most of us take our exponentially more powerful machines for granted as we scan vast libraries with the sweep of a finger on an iPod.  I can’t help but to wonder how Bush would delight in a world where our Memex’s are pocket sized and plentiful and information connects us untethered from the remote corners of the world.    His text was written a scant 67 years ago.  How vast will the realms of and accessibility to information be come 2079?


Inventing the Medium

I must confess as I blog about this subject I am very interested in, I found Janet Murray’s text to be opaque (or at least murky) at times.  It often cast references which I was minimally conscious of or entirely unfamiliar to me.  I imagine many of my colleagues in this seminar who are better versed in the coming of age of computers and digital technology will likely follow her threads more efficiently.

Nonetheless I was interested in the two pronged nature of her historical approach relating humanist’s concerns and goals to those of engineers.  Oftentimes these points of entry into the computing age are pitted against each other in her writing.  

I am fascinated with the synergy between rigorous problem solving and engineering and the humanist-artistic experience as they have evolved the aesthetic machine space most users experience today.

As a child I was driven to understand the innards of my first computers by dis/reassembling them or experimenting with changes to their most basic programming.  Now my understanding of what lies below Windows or MacOS is admittedly limited, but these days I am compelled to bend and twist the fabric of applications to create media of divergent varieties.

In one sense I understand Murray’s perspective that there is a cross purpose between those who want to occupy this space on creative, aesthetic, or habitual levels and others who wish to forge technology that finds finite solutions.  What intrigues me most is the interstitial gray area which recognizes the abstractly gifted, creative vision of those engineers entwined with the practical linear understanding some artists command in the creation of media and intangible space.

New Media Seminar

This blog will display my thoughts about the New Media Seminar at Whitman College I am participating in and responses to the essays in New Media Reader we discussing in our weekly meetings.  I’ve been fascinated with computers from a technological point of view since my first Radio Shack TRS-80 in the early 1980’s and through now in the way that digital media is completely interwoven with my artistic and practical-technical work as a theatrical designer.