New tools for scholarship, new modes of communication, new forms of organization, same old humanity.
Vannevar Bush's Memex
September 17, 2017 at 2:38 pm #1082
Note: Allison, Holly, and Michael do not have to write a response to this question, since they’ll be presenting in class Monday.
There’s much food for thought in Vannevar Bush’s classic 1945 essay “As We May Think.” Later this week, in conjunction with our look at race/gender/class/nation in the digital humanities, we’ll want to talk about the gender politics (and gendered rhetoric) of Bush’s essay – features that are all the more curious given the central role in the history of computing played by women such as Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and the “human computers” whose story is told in the recent movie Hidden Figures: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson.
For tomorrow, though, ask yourself these two questions, and post your answers in the forum:
- Many years before the advent of the digital electronic computer, and even longer before the advent of computer screens with “windows,” Bush tries to imagine a hypothetical new interface for organizing and interacting with knowledge: the “memex.” He sees this interface as potentially helping researchers solve some age-old challenges. How would you describe these challenges?
- Bush also sees this interface as holding the potential to re-organize, radically, the way researchers interact with their research and with each other. How? Why?
September 17, 2017 at 4:30 pm #1084
- This topic was modified 11 months ago by Paul Schacht.
September 17, 2017 at 5:39 pm #1085
- Bush tackles the issue of getting lost in the massive amounts of new research that is constantly being done and developed at such a rate where it is impossible to keep up with it all. Bush’s proposed “memex” would allow people to have a library at their fingertips, with the ability to browse through documents, and to even find and share one’s trains of thought through various linked articles. Bush essentially imagines a system which browses through metadata to find desired information and keeps track of past actions for ease of use.
- Bush proposed that the interface would be able to build “a trail of many items,” tying relevant articles to each other for future reference, ease of access, and ease of sharing. This would allow researchers to share their own findings and attach it to other relevant research for others to find. This would build an ever-growing web of related research, building a “record of ideas,” and ensuring that important findings do not get lost in the massive amount of increasingly specialized research.
September 17, 2017 at 9:54 pm #1086
- In his article Bush explains different kinds of technology to the reader and emphasizes the rapid evolution of technology that is being faced in the world as more and more information becomes available to a person. In Bush’s opinion this ridiculous abundance of information is too overwhelming for a person to be able to benefit from because they won’t be able to find the important information in all the research and they would have a very difficult time connecting information to other information to create a resource that is useful to users.
- Bush’s idea is to create a system which will store all of the information from the past and future that has developed over the years. This way the information will always be able to be found if a person needs it. He also proposes that the system would create a way to organize information so that it is easier for a person to see connections in the information and to just understand the information in general.
September 18, 2017 at 10:15 am #1087
- In his article, Vannevar Bush details the struggle to keep up with and remain versed in the exponentially increasing library of data as time goes on. The memex, as theorized by Bush, would allow a user to interact with a system of tools and screens on a bench to create and manipulate metadata and organize library materials and articles. A challenge faced by Bush’s memex is organization of texts and the ability to note associations and connect said texts.
- Bush’s interface could theoretically have changed the way researchers view information and interact with each-other. The memex would essentially build threads, interconnecting articles and texts while allowing for researches to add comments and updates when needed. These threads would stand the test of time and provide an ever-evolving baseline for research. In my opinion the memex would eliminate redundancy in academia and encourage more original work.
September 18, 2017 at 10:56 am #1088
- These challenges that Bush describes are twofold; access to information and retrieving that information in a streamlined manner. Access to information is the most obvious challenge. Instead of scouring for new research (taking longer to find it than it would take to read it), the current thought on any subject could be right at one’s fingertips with the memex. Even now, in the digital age, archives are scanning their collections to give instant access to researchers around the world who cannot come in-person. All of this, Bush hopes, will be accomplished in an efficient manner. He detailed many processes of retreating information as “clumsy, slow, and faulty in detail” and hopes his memex would streamline the process for an easy experience in research.
- The researcher, using Bush’s memex, can now compare unlimited sources in their research. This allows scholarly works more arguments to be considered and thus a better circulation of ideas within the field, in a much shorter time-span. In addition, with practically endless storage, these authors can save any and all information they find without worrying about shelf space. This feature of space-less storage can be indispensable to the researcher. As Bush details, even if the information was not relevant before, the memex interface allows the individual to quickly recall the document from the vast reservoirs of saved information it stores.
September 18, 2017 at 12:07 pm #1089
- Bush’s “memex” imagines a system for collecting and organizing data as volumes of data become too massive/varied for humans to sustain engagement with them. His insights are set against the backdrop of WWII and the influx of changing technology in warfare. Bush notes that the problem of collecting and storing data does only apply to scientists, and suggests that the “memex” would help make information publicly accessible.
- Bush imagines a card-system to categorize scholarly material. He argues that this system will help us to process information rapidly. The structure he envisions reminds me a bit of the way we use hashtags or key phrases to search for information. He adds that the memex will improve the accessibility of information as it becomes outdated (thus avoiding the pitfall of important work being “buried” by the arrival of new scholarly material).
September 18, 2017 at 2:31 pm #1090
- A “memex” as explained by Bush can help overcome many challenges. He envisions an algorithm that compresses all files, books, records, communications, etc. for the user in order to help them find it whenever they need. This reminds me of a much more complex and advanced card catalog used in libraries for lots of years. This will help with organization and finding material much quicker than before. If only Bush had the technology to build it himself when he wrote this essay.
- It will help researchers interact with their research better. As time goes on there will only be more knowledge to be stored in the “memex” and in order to find records it will be extremely helpful to have them all in one place and easily accessible. This reminds of me of the “command, f” feature every Mac computer has. It helps you find words or phrases that may help you find what you’re looking for in an article or just simply a webpage. This feature has helped me out personally on a lot.
- The biggest challenge faced by researchers at the time would not only be finding an easy way to access the copious amounts of data that existed (and also those that would be created in the future), but also finding a way to share that data. For as necessary as finding the information is, it doesn’t mean a whole lot if the researcher is unable to share it with other members of the community. To remedy this, “memex,” would have to not only have to provide a tool for finding the information, but also a network that could be utilized for sharing it.
- The way in which researchers interact with their own research and other researchers could be radically altered by”memex” is through the use of key terms that narrow the number of resources to those that are most relevant to the research. A feature that also provides metadata on the research could drastically improve this, by not only providing the most optimized data, but by providing multiple ways in which the user can search for it. For instance, a researcher could search for all articles that are by a specific author, or those written in a certain time period. A network functionality could take this even further, by providing a platform in which the researchers could collaborate with one another, without having to be face to face.
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