Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Vannevar Bush article

Sorry this is so late! Anyway, I found Vannevar Bush's article quite intriguing, particularily his idea of the "memex". Given today's technological advancements, his proposal seems decidedly absurd. According to Wikipedia "the memex was severely flawed because Bush did not understand information science, or microfilm very well". I was hoping to get some feedback on this issue: what about the memex struck you as probably not very well adapted to the way that people use information? What structural errors did this particular, though hypothetical advancement have, in your opinion, given the ways you use technology? Also, it has been written that Vannevar didn't link up with the library.. where we might think his invention might have a home. How often do you think this happens, how many inventions that may have helped the library just pass on by because of perceptions about the library as an institution.. what might these perceptions be? Lack of funding, lack of use for technology?


Soren said...

As Wikipedia mentions, Bush's idea of "associative trails" is more linear than the web concept of hypertext. Rather, it is like a list of bookmarks, or the "history" function found in web browsers. His understanding of microfilm technology may also have been incomplete or unrealistic. Wikipedia lists several different instances in which he proved a poor technological prophet. Nonetheless, the memex as a thought experiment or concept, along with the other ideas in the article, such as voice recognition, are remarkably ahead of their time. Remember too, that Bush could not reveal everything he knew about new technology in July of 1945- the war was still on. For instance, he undoubtedly knew much more about the specifics of computer advances during the war than he was able to mention in a public forum. I wonder what he thought of the world and technology when he died in 1974?

Gillian D. said...

I think it is a shame Bush didn't get to see what computers became. He had some interesting but flawed ideas about technology and seemed to really enjoy looking at how things had changed.

The memex he describes reminds me of the computer that they use to try and replace librarians in the movie "Desk Set." A useful tool in theory, but ultimately not workable as it doesn't take certain things under consideration.

I remember when my childhood library got an exciting new touchscreen computer catalog. It was the slowest thing, but lots of us were amazed by it. Most of the librarians were not so impressed.

Deborah said...

I had the opposite reaction to the Bush essay. It made me suspicious of what the U.S. government was developing or what technologies were on the cusp of development in the 1940s. Of course, on the surface, Bush's essay seems pretty silly now. But I thought his text contained some eery (yet vague) foreshadowing of technologies that have actually come into being, like digital photography, web crawlers/spiders, keyword searching, PDAs, etc.