Tuesday, June 17

In the mid 1960s, Vannevar Bush published Science is Not Enough, a collection of essays which contained Memex Revisited. The memex was a concept first proposed in a 1945 Atlantic Monthly article titled "As We May Think". Memex would be a document storage system with the ability to build complex associative trails between documents. It would use microfilm or similar technology to contain the equivalent of a library in a desk. It represented Bush's answer, or part of it, to the problems of antiquated library technology and an overwhelming surge of human knowledge. He wanted a way for ordinary people to meaningfully navigate the information pouring out of the world's academies, laboratories, and governments.

Memex Revisited looked at contemporary developments - magnetic tape, video, lasers, and the digital computer - and the ways they could make a memex-like system to closer to reality.

Bush was not always an exciting or brilliant author. The other essays in Science is Not Enough can be plodding and fragmented. Their outlook, for all its uniqueness, still hews pretty close to standard Cold War Us vs. Them thinking in some ways. It is still safe to say that Bush was a visionary.

There is stuff about this all over the web, because Vannevar Bush is considered an originator of the ideas behind hypertext and a huge influence on people like Ted Nelson (who gave us the word "hypertext" and a lot of impressive sounding vaporware), Doug Engelbart, and Tim Berners-Lee. There is a reference to him in one of the weirder and more fascinating episodes of serial experiments lain.