Monday, July 28, 2014

More Time for Thinking?.... or Just More Cat Videos?

What could a memory machine do?  
This was the question that Vannevar Bush asked when he proposed the memex.

Vannervar Bush wearing
head-mounted infovore machine
from Atlantic Monthly (1945), vol. 176
Bush proposed a new system for organizing information in his article, ”As We May Think” which was first published 69 years ago this July. This system is linked to the beginning of hypertext and the Internet.
Bush stated, “Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready-made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified…a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications…it is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory” (Bush, 2006). Does this remind you of the Internet in a primitive way?

Bush described this information organization devise, the memex as:
From Life magazine, (1945) vol. 19, no. 11, p. 123
“…a desk, [that] can…be operated from a distance…the top [is]…slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading.  There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers….” (Bush,1945).
Does that sound like a desk-top computer, your personal laptop, or even, perhaps, your smart phone?!

The part of Bush’s article that often gets overlooked is Bush’s underlying reason for creating the memex.  Bush hoped to use the memex to cut down on the time it took to do good research which, in turn, would leave more time for deep thinking which Bush called “mature thought” (Levy, 2007).  Do we really have more time for thinking through the use of our “mechanical indexes” or do we just choose to skip the “deep thought” part in order to watch another cat video?  What do you think?

Bush, V. (1945). As we may think. The Atlantic Monthly, 176, 101-108.
Bush, V. (2006). As we may think. The Atlantic Monthly, 298(2), 55-58.
Levy, D. M. (2007). No time to think: Reflections on information technology and contemplative scholarship,  Ethics and Information Technology, 9, 237-249. 

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