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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?


About monkeycantype

I teach theatre design at Whitman College

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