Notes on "As We May Think"

Bush, Vannevar. "As We May Think". Atlantic Monthly, July 1945. <>.

"Science has provided the swiftest communication between individuals; it has provided a record of ideas and has enabled man to manipulate and to make extracts from that record so that knowledge evolves and endures throughout the life of a race rather than that of an individual."

Bush often uses his own coinages of words, making them BIG words: the "record" is the aggregate of all knowledge. "Trails" are linkages of chunks of information.

"…Yes specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge disciplines is, correspondingly, superficial." - interesting how this subject gets rehashed. Every generation there are some who call for generalists while some harp on the necessary specialization…

More data overload: "The summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the days of square-rigged ships." — does he mean paper? because we still use paper, so is this statement still valid. Could this dissatisfaction with past methods be mirrored in what is talked about in the "Myth of the Paperless Office" and the commentators in the late 80s, early 90s who rave about hypertext?

It seems the case that Bush believes in technological determinsm. Is this orientation important in my study? Is Ted Nelson a supporter of technological determinism? I don't think so. It is as Rayward says about Otlet, the focus was not necessarily on the user, but the advancement of technology that would carry the user along.

Bush predicts not only a type of hypertext systems but also digital cameras, credit card machines(swipers), and Gordon Bell's work on archiving his life. Which was actually inspired by Bush's memex. However, Bell's project is only a synthesis of section 2 & 3 and small parts of others. But how relevant are most of the things logged in Bell's project? It's an insightful look at associative indexing, especially in the Scientific American article about the project. Search can be done using a variety of associations including time, by person, keyword, type of medium used to record, type of interaction etc.

"Today we make the record conventionally by writing and photography, followed by printing; but we also record on film, on wax disks, and on magnetic wires. Even if utterly new recording procedures do not appear, these present ones are certainly in the process of modification and extension." Marshall McLuhan calls media an extension of man. Augmentation is another word used in the same context.

"The basic scheme of reducing the size of the record, and examining it by projection rather than directly, has possibilities too great to be ignored." - but what about the qualities inherent in each medium? Bush is proposing an intermediary(the projector, in this case), but his contribution is primarily important for storage of materials not its actual use. As we see now, in hindsight, few people enjoy reading microfilm. As is clear in the article, Bush's optimism depended on technology advancing faster than it did.

"Mere compression, of course, is not enough; one needs not only to make and store a record but also be able to consult it, and this aspect of the matter comes later. Even the modern great library is not generally consulted; it is nibbled at by a few." - this is also relevant to Gordon Bell's project. The ease by which one can consult a "work" needs to be considered. This is part of my study.

"To make the record, we now push a pencil or tap a typewriter. Then comes the process of digestion and correction, followed by an intricate process of typesetting, printing, and distribution. To consider the first stage of the procedure, will the author of the future cease writing by hand or typewriter and talk directly to the record? He does so indirectly, by talking to a stenographer or a wax cylinder; but the elements are all present if he wishes to have his talk directly produce a typed record. All he needs to do is to take advantage of existing mechanisms and to alter his language." - translatability of mediums. "talk directly to the record" is a better metaphor than if taken literally. Also notice the process of idea/document creation here. Compare and contrast with other models(make sure to look at Rada's model).

"As he ponders over his notes in the evening, he again talks his comments into the record. His typed record, as well as his photographs, may both be in miniature, so that he projects them for examination." - but will has spoken comments by translated to text, and will the typed record be translated to audio? Can it be?

"In fact, every time one combines and records facts in accordance with established logical processes, the creative aspect of thinking is concerned only with the selection of the data and the process to be employed and the manipulation thereafter is repetitive in nature and hence a fit matter to be relegated to the machine." - but does the repetition have a function for the human mind? Perhaps to deepen impressions or help reflection? Further, is thinking really so repetitive that we need a machine "think" "repetitive" thoughts for us? Does this relate to the scholar's personal workstation?

"A new symbolism, probably positional, must apparently precede the reduction of mathematical transformations to machine processes. " - data visualization?

"The prime action of use is selection, and here we are halting indeed. There may be millions of fine thoughts, and the account of the experience on which they are based, all encased within stone walls of acceptable architectural form; but if the scholar can get at only one a week by diligent search, his syntheses are not likely to keep up with the current scene." - we see several planes here, the current scene, syntheses, accepted architectural form, thoughts, selection. Many variable ideas float amongst these words. Do they say much? Or does the main idea of selection as an aid to synthesis give us what we need?

"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…" Does the mind really work this way and does it matter? Is it an effective way to model a personal workstation?

"Selection by association, rather than indexing, may yet be mechanized." - How? The semantic web, tagging…but the semantic web depends on keyword-rich content and XML programming done by authors. It is a post-cursor. After the data is created it is analyzed and linked together. New data is folded into the web, which re-aligns old associations. What are the downsides? Too many associations will remove relevance. Some associations will be nonsensical…

"He can add marginal notes and comments, taking advantage of one possible type of dry photography, and it could even be arranged so that he can do this by a stylus scheme, such as is now employed in the telautograph seen in railroad waiting rooms, just as though he had the physical page before him." - attempting to imitate the affordances of paper.

"This is the essential feature of the memex. The process of tying two items together is the important thing."

"When the user is building a trail, he names it, inserts the name in his code book…" - like Otlet's universal books, except the contents and their associations are determined by the individual not a "positivist" 'collective' mind.

Creating trails is sort of like…what? creating a browsery, or a bibliography except for the creator would pull out the appropriate sections of the texts/whatevers and paste just those things.

"It is exactly as though the physical items had been gathered together from widely separated sources and bound together to form a new book. It is more than this, for any item can be joined into numerous trails." - OTLET!!! (Universal Books)

When creating a trail, Bush mentions having two articles projected adjacent to each other, but is it possible to have more than that projected at once? It should be, that would truly mirror a desktop.

"There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record." - Wait, aren't these people librarians? "as a librarian, you can be a catalyst and lead from the centeryou can be a weaver"

- from The Shifted Librarian blog.

"All our steps in creating or absorbing material of the record proceed through one of the senses—the tactile when we touch keys, the oral when we speak or listen, the visual when we read. Is it not possible that some day the path may be established more directly?" - the Matrix!! Get Jacked in!

"His excursions may be more enjoyable if he can reacquire the privilege of forgetting the manifold things he does not need to have immediately at hand, with some assurance that he can find them again if they prove important." - it is a question of whether associative indexing will be helpful in finding everything…

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License