As We May Think

After recommending, for nearly 4 years, that people read “As We May Think”, by Dr Vannevar Bush, I somewhat sheepishly admit that I had never read it myself.

I rectified this yesterday, and WOW. You have *got* to read this. It does a number of interesting things for me.

One, it shows me the astonishing foresight that some people have about technology, and trends, and where things are headed. This guy, in the closing days of WWII, foresaw the World Wide Web in a way that some people *still* don’t get.

The other thing is that we have absolutely no concept of what is going to happen with technology, because we express things in our current terms. Dr. Bush had amazing ideas of what would happen, but could not express them because he was trapped in the metaphor of his day. Thus, his “Memex” device contained reams and reams of microfiche, which are accessed by photoelectric devices that scan them in, visually, and then mechanically move them around to find the related (“linked”) ones.

This, in turn, makes me marvel at where we will be in 50 years, and how we will look back on the remarks made in this poor benighted decade, when we thought we were at the peak of technological advance. After all, every age thinks of themselves as the moderns. The folks in the early 1800s viewed themselves as supremely enligtened, risen from the ignorance and prejudice of the past, and technologically advanced to the point where no further advance was likely.

In the final remarks of Dr. Bush’s paper, he speculates that, maybe some day, it would be possible to not have to resort to a physical intermediate layer at all – that data could be taken directly from a stored form to a stored form, without having to manipulate a keyboard, or a physical printed version, at all. Then he almost dismisses this as pure fantasy. And just a few decades later, we have trouble imagining data as anything *but* electronic.

If you haven’t read this paper, it is well worth the time to do so, whether or not you are involved in technology in any way.