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Predicting the future in 1945

When I first started reading Vannevar Bush’s article, I didn’t realize it had been written in 1945. It mentions war, but it wasn’t until about the fourth paragraph that I had to stop, go back to the top and check out the byline. Once I saw the date, the part about scientists burying their competition in the demand of a common cause made sense because it sure didn’t in regards to the current war—there is still plenty of competition between companies and defense contractors in weapons development.

I know nothing about this gentleman, but he seems to be quite the visionary regarding where technology was heading or where he thought it should go. (According to Wikipedia, he’s the “patron saint of American science.?) Not so much the visionary when it comes to writing as he always uses “he? and “him? for a scientist because the “girls? are languidly keying the stenotype or are armed with key board punches. And yes, I realize he’s a product of the time.

For those of you who didn’t read the article, he discusses ideas regarding dry photography (I’m assuming he meant Polaroid, not digital…would digital be dry photography 2.0?), microphotography, voice recorders and translators, advanced arithmetical machines (calculators?), and the automated telephone. I had to laugh when I read about that. He says, “it could be made extremely fast by substituting thermionic-tube switching for mechanical switching, so that the full selection could be made in one-hundredth of a second. No one would wish to spend the money necessary to make this change in the telephone system? (7). Sorry, Mr. Bush, but I think they did and then they did more.

I thought the part on indexing was right on target (8). He believes the top-down method doesn’t work because “The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association? (8). To fix this, he discusses items being tied together with some coding (tagging?) in the memex, which seems to be a desk-sized computer, but with the internet inside the desk on microfilm. And he can share his information with a friend if he wants…is that a wiki if he reproduces his data and passes it on to a friend who could then code it however he wanted?

I know this is why we are reading this article, but it’s amazing to see what was written 60 years and see how it seems to have come true in some sort of way. When he talks about “trails of interest? (10), it almost sounds like browsing and “ 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“ sounds like bookmarks (11). The writing style made it a slow read, but it was worth the time.

Moving on to modern times, Jaron Lanier’s essay was great. The idea of a “hive mind? makes a lot of sense, as do his thoughts on the collective. Collectives can be good, or can be stupid, which is really how anything can be given the right circumstances.

And I really liked this quote: “The beauty of the Internet is that it connects people. The value is in other people. If we start to believe that the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we’re devaluing those people and making ourselves into idiots.? Short of pondering this idea for an hour, I’m having trouble expressing why I like this quote so much. I just do. The internet is way to communicate with family and friends and learn from people I don't know (yet). It's a tool, not a thing.

As for Wikinomics and Best Buy, I think they’ve just become one of my target companies in my upcoming job search…I’d like to work for a progressive company for a change.

Comments

Hello Michelle. Oh, the things that we find out! You realized that Vannevar Bush’s article had been written in 1945. I just realized that you are a grad student. I don't know why I didn't realize that sooner. Anyways, regarding 1945--isn't that amazing how things have changed since then? There are behaviors that were common back then that are less common now. There are thoughts that were less common back then that are more common now. Etc. Etc. I think the biggest change is technology. Even in the past decade, technology has changed so much. How things change through the years! It's interesting to read articles/materials that were written back then because it gives readers a glimpse of the time period. Thanks for your post!

I had the same experience reading the Bush article--I didn't realize it was written so long ago either. I was also struck by how accurate his predictions have come to be. His description of the machine containing the microfilm which would be viewed through a platen glass was eerily prescient. It was almost like he wrote the recipe and Bill Gates made it. The same for his near-literal predictions of bookmarking, tagging and hyperlinking. Is this article where the inventors of these got the ideas?

I had the same experience reading the Bush article--I didn't realize it was written so long ago either. I was also struck by how accurate his predictions have come to be. His description of the machine containing the microfilm which would be viewed through a platen glass was eerily prescient. It was almost like he wrote the recipe and Bill Gates made it. The same for his near-literal predictions of bookmarking, tagging and hyperlinking. Is this article where the inventors of these got the ideas?