On this day, which may or not be the 40th anniversary of the
first use of the internet (and the 80th anniversary of the collapse
of the stock market of ’29, and Lucy A’s anniversary of her birth) it might be
good to remember an earlier version of the internet and the semi-invention of
the concept of hypertext: the MEMEX machine of the under-remembered Vannevar Bush.
Vannevar (pronounced “van ee var”) was a flinty no-nonsense New Englander
who was an organizational and mechanical genius who as a professor at MIT
developed a remarkable analog computer that greatly advance computation
capacities for solving differential equations.
This was in the 1930’s, and even after creating an improved
electromechanical version of the machine still chose the wrong way to go in the
soon-to-materialize digital computer revolution. During WWII Bush was one of the most
important Americans in the war effort, overseeing the entire scientific effort
But right there at the end of the war, when he was organizing a still-secret
effort of controlling the spread of atomic weapons (before
I just thought on this day that the man who saw more clearly into the future on advanced global communication and societal memory should be remembered on a day when his grandchild came into being.
1. According to Bush, “the MEMEX is a sort of mechanized private file and library…. It uses methods such as microfilm storage, dry photography, and analog computing to give postwar scholars access to a huge, indexed repository of knowledge-any section of which can be called up with a few keystrokes." Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Nick Montfort, ed (2003). The New Media Reader. p. 35. The MIT Press
The physical plant of the MEMEX: “A memex consists of a desk, where on top are slating translucent screens on which material can be projected for convenient reading. Within the desk were mechanisms that stored information through microphotography. Most of the memex contents are purchased on microfilm ready for insertion. On the top of the memex is a transparent platen. When a longhand note, photograph, memoranda, and other things are in place, the depression of a lever causes it to be photographed onto the next blank space in a section of the memex film, dry photography being employed.” Manovich, Lev. "As We May Think", The New Media Reader and wiki on The Memex.