is the title of an article by Vannevar Bush, Atlantic Monthly, July 1945. He described a device, the memex, which was the inspiration of early hypertext systems - and is a lineal ancestor of Everything.

You can find the article (and several cool associations) by searching for "Vannevar" at

I had to read this article for a class on the advent of digital media, and all I could think of was E2. It is definitely a must-read for anyone interested in the roots of this site. Here's a brief synopsis I wrote:

In his 1945 article entitled "As We May Think," Vannevar Bush discusses technological advances during the time period and speculates on some future innovations. Bush worried that since World War II had ended, insufficient funding would hamper scientific progress. He continues, speculating about new forms of photography that would enable the photographer to simply wear a special pair of glasses and photograph his field of vision. The film would instantaneously be developed using a dry technique, contrary to the time-consuming chemical emulsion process of the time. It was this technology, as well as the microfilm technology already in use, that prompted Bush to come up with an idea for an information mass storage device he called the Memex. This proposed machine would store thousands of books and pictures, and would enable the user to take notes on the screen and save research "trails" (softlinks, anyone?!) for other users to utilize. The database of information stored in the device would be easily searchable and navigable with the use of a keyboard and sets of buttons and levers. Bush ends his article with a short discussion of his predictions about technology in the far future including a procedure enabling deaf people to hear.

A URL for the article is in an above writeup.

The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers—conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear.

These are lines from the introduction to Vannevar Bush's seminal essay "As We May Think". I find it ironic because the article itself is an example of something that could have been lost, soon after it appeared. Even with the genre of article it was part of---futurism, and even given the fame of the author, the article could have been lost among the many essays on the future published in the post-war era. But this article is considered seminal, because it is considered by many to be one of the first suggestions of many ideas leading up the internet and modern computing in general.

As with many seminal articles, going back and reading about it after hearing about its fame is a mixed experience. For example, there are some explanations of future technology that sound downright cute: such as the great detail that goes into explaining how some day soon, film will not need to be developed chemically in a dark room. Likewise, there are some assumptions of technology that have not panned out, such as voice coding and decoding software. There are also some social points that seem either irritating or quaint to the modern reader, such as the description of a roomfull of "girls" feeding punchcard machines.

And yet most of the technology in this has come true. Not, of course, in exactly the form that Dr. Bush guessed at, but that all media could be reproduced and stored in a very small form, and that electrical advances would lead to their quick and easy retrieval, did happen. And these were guesses made in 1945, when the first transistor was still cooling off. More important was the fact that he took the fact that several different technologies were drawing together: that electrical computers would be paired with archival techniques for media.

The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain.
Beyond his ideas for the science of computing, his understanding about psychology and sociology of how these would be placed are what is most interesting. Bush doesn't want to just shrink a library and hook it up to some electric power: he wants to make it something that people can interact with, that they can use their mind's innate patterns for shaping data to shape how devices display them, instead of vice-versa. The 'trails of association' that we naturally speed through will be preserved both for our use and the use of others, and this will transform human thinking to what it was meant to be.

And of course this is even more important in light of what happened the same summer that Bush wrote this: World War II ended, in part because of the scientific research that Bush helped to organize. Vannevar Bush was not writing about technology's ability to effect social change in a vaccuum: he had just overseen the Manhattan Project, and "As We May Think" is a statement that the seemingly minor technology of sharing information may be humanity's only escape from the technology of destruction. While it is uncertain whether any technology discovered so far at sharing information, including our current endeavor, has had the success it could at using information sharing in the pursuit of peace, I still take Dr. Bush's warning, and promise, very seriously.

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