๐Ÿ”– Read As We May Think by Vannevar Bush

This 1945 essay by Vannebar Bush is one of the first texts they had us read when I got my MS in Library Science.

Notes and highlights

A record if it is to be useful to science, must be continuously extended, it must be stored, and above all it must be consulted.

one needs not only to make and store a record but also be able to consult it,

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

Whenever logical processes of thought are employedโ€”that is, whenever thought for a time runs along an accepted grooveโ€”there is an opportunity for the machine.

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.

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, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.

Bush points out that indexing systems and rules do not duplicate the human mind - we must convert our own mental associations to a form we can use to search them - but that the human mind works by association. I extrapolate from this the idea of hypertext as a model of how the mind works. I’m going to keep an eye out for other instances of this idea.

if the user inserted 5000 pages of material a day it would take him hundreds of years to fill the repository, so he can be profligate and enter material freely.

How many people use Evernote as a Memex?

When the user is building a trail, he names it, inserts the name in his code book, and taps it out on his keyboard. Before him are the two items to be joined, projected onto adjacent viewing positions. At the bottom of each there are a number of blank code spaces, and a pointer is set to indicate one of these on each item. The user taps a single key, and the items are permanently joined. In each code space appears the code word.

This is tagging.

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.

It me! This is kinda what people who operate as web librarians do. Web librarian isn’t my job title or description, but it’s just kind of who I am.

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.

This is one of my difficulties. I put a lot of stuff in my blog-as-memex but don’t have a good way of surfacing them again. Theoretically I could do this with categories, but that gets overwhelming fast. This is why I’m thinking about using a blog and a wiki together for this purpose.

He may perish in conflict before he learns to wield that record for his true good.

I fear this is so.