As We May Think

“Consider a future device … in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.” Vannevar Bush, Atlantic, July 1945.

Atlantic Original. pdf

Atlantic Archive. article

Wikipedia. page

Brain Pickings. post

Morning Paper. post

Slate. post

the experience

Here is how Bush describes in this article the experience of using a theoretical machine he called a memex:

>The owner of the memex, let us say, is interested in the origin and properties of the bow and arrow. Specifically he is studying why the short Turkish bow was apparently superior to the English long bow in the skirmishes of the Crusades. He has dozens of possibly pertinent books and articles in his memex. First he runs through an encyclopedia, finds and interesting but sketchy article, leaves it projected, Next, in a history, he finds another pertinent item, and ties the two together. Thus he goes, building a trail of many items. Occasionally he inserts a comment of his own, either linking it into the main trail or joining it by a side trail to a particular item. When it becomes evident that the elastic properties of available materials had a great deal to do with the bow, he branches off on a side trail which takes him through textbooks on elasticity and tables of physical constants. He inserts a page of longhand analysis of his own. Thus he builds a trail of his interest through the maze of materials available to him > And his trails do not fade. Several years later, his talk with a friend turns to the queer ways in which a people resist innovations, even of vital interest. He has an example, in the fact that the outranged Europeans still failed to adopt the Turkish bow. In fact he has a trail on it. A touch brings up the code book. Tapping a few keys projects the head of the trail. A lever runs through it at will, stopping at interesting items, going off on side excursions. It is an interesting trail, pertinent to the discussion. So he sets a reproducer in action, photographs the whole trail out, and passes it to his friend for insertion in his own memex, there to be linked into the more general trail.

a reflection

_And his trails do not fade._

The name "memex" was possibly derived from "memory index". It might also stand for "memory extender".

What Bush describes is remarkably similar to the experience of creating and sharing meaning in a fedwiki.

The Dayton Experiment was originally written in the fedwiki. It contains stories, concepts, and trails that others could easily access later by searching or by referring to The Garden Index.

An experience that illuminated an understanding of the potential of hypertext - inspired by Borge and Bush - to a new level. See Abstracting Words and Numbers

What a relief not to have to keep all of those ideas in one's head anymore. And to know that the trails from this important work will not easily fade but will become a part of Folk Memory.