As We May Think

” As We May Think ” is a 1945 essay by Vannevar Bush which has been described as visionary and influential, anticipating many aspects of information society . It was first published in The Atlantic in July 1945 and republished in an abridged version in September 1945-before and after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki . Bush express His concern for the management of scientific efforts Toward destruction Rather than understanding, and explicates a desire for a sort of collective memory Machine With His concept of the memexthat would make knowledge more accessible, believing that it would help fix these problems. Through this machine, Bush hoped to transform an information explosion into a knowledge explosion. [1]

Concept creation

The article was reworked and expanded version of Bush’s essay “Mechanization and the Record” (1939). Here, he described a machine that would combine lower level technologies to achieve a higher level of organized knowledge (like human memory processes). Shortly after the publication of this essay, Bush coined the term ” memex ” in a letter written to the editor of Fortunemagazine. [2] That letter became the body of “As We May Think”, which added only an introduction and conclusion. As described, Bush’s meme was based on what was thought, at the time, to be advanced technology of the future: ultra high resolution microfilm reels, coupled to multiple screen viewers and cameras, byelectromechanical controls. The memex, in essence, reflects a library of collective knowledge stored in a piece of furniture described in his essay as “a piece of furniture”. [3] The Atlantic publication of Bush’s article was followed, in the September 10, 1945 issue of Life magazine, by a reprint that showed illustrations of the proposed memex desk and automatic typewriter. (Coincidentally, the same issue of Life contained aerial photos of Hiroshima after the dropping of the atomic bomb, a Bush project was instrumental in starting). Bush as discussed other technologies such as dry photography and microphotographywhere he elaborates on the potentialities of their future use. For example, Bush states in his essay that:

The combination of optical projection and photographic reduction is already producing some results in microfilm for scholarly purposes, and the potentialities are highly suggestive.

-  Vannevar Bush [3]

Concept realization

“As We May Think,” “Many types of technology invented after its publication, including hypertext , personal computers , the Internet , the World Wide Web , speech recognition , and online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia :” 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. ” [3]Bush envisioned the ability to retrieve several articles or pictures on one screen, with the possibility of writing comments that could be stored and recalled together. He believed people would create links between them, thus making the process of thinking and making it easier for others. Wikipedia is one example of how this vision has been made. A user’s browser history maps the trails of possible paths of interaction, but this is usually available only to the user that created it. Bush’s article also laid the foundation for new media. Doug Engelbartcam Across the essay Shortly after-ict publication, and keeping the memex in mind, he Began Work That Would Eventually result in the invention of the mouse , the word processor , the hyperlink and concepts of new media for qui thesis groundbreaking inventions Were Merely Enabling Technologies . [1]

Today, Vanidor Bush

The Encyclopædia Britannica could be reduced to the volume of a matchbox. A library of a million volumes could be compressed into one end of a desk.

-  Vannevar Bush [3]

Bush described as artificial:

Where they are filed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and they are subtracted from subclass to subclass. It can be in only one place, unless duplicates are used.

-  Vannevar Bush [3]

This description resembles popular file systems of modern computer operating systems ( FAT , NTFS , ext3 when used without hard links and symlinks, etc.), which do not easily enable associative indexing as imagined by Bush.

Outlook in the use of science

Bush urges that scientists should turn to the massive task of creating more efficient accessibility to our fluctuating store of knowledge . For inventions have extended people’s physical powers rather than the powers of their mind. He argues that the instruments are at hand which, if properly developed, will give society access to and control over the inherited knowledge of the ages. The perfection of these pacific instruments, he suggests, should be the first objective of our scientists. [3]

Through this process, society would be able to focus and evolve the existing knowledge rather than looping through infinite calculations. We should be able to make the most of the workings of machines and work on the intricate theory. If humanoid Were reliable to obtenir the “privilege of Forgetting the manifold things he does not need to-have time immediately at hand, With Some insurance That he can find ’em again if significant proven” only then “will mathematics be effective Practically in Bringing the growing knowledge of atomistic to the useful solution of the advanced problems of chemistry, metallurgy, and biology. [1]To exemplify the importance of this concept, consider the process involved in ‘simple’ shopping: “Every time is in charge of sales, it is a number of things to be done. credit for the sale, the general accounts need an entry, and most importantly, the customer needs to be charged. ” [1] Due to the convenience of the store, the employees may focus on the essential aspects of the sales and advertising department.

Indeed, as of today, “science has provided the swiftest communication between individuals, it has provided a record of ideas and has enabled man to manipulate and to make extracts from that record that knowledge evolves and endures throughout the life of a race rather than of an individual “. [1] Improved technology has become an extension of capabilities.

Another significant role of practicality in technology is the method of association and selection. “There may be millions of fine thoughts, and the fact that they are based on the principles of architectural design, but the study is not to keep up with the current scene. ” [1] Bush believes that the tools available in his time lacked this feature, but noted the emergence and development of such ideas as the Memex, a cross referencing system.

Bush concludes his essay by stating that:

The applications of science have a built-in, well-supplied house. They have enabled him to throw the masses of people against one another with cruel weapons. They may well be able to truly embrace the record and grow in the wisdom of race experience. He can perish in conflict before he learns to know that record for his true good. Yet, in the application of science to the needs and desires of man, it would seem to be a singularly unfortunate stage at which to terminate the process, or to lose hope to the outcome.

-  Vannevar Bush [3]


Many scientists, especially physicists, get new duties during the War. Now, after the war, they need new duties.

Section 1: The use of Science has tremendously improved in many ways for humans. The knowledge of science has grown considerably. However, the way we manage it still remains the same for centuries. Science finds out. Alternatively, the technology has greatly increased and dependable machines.

Section 2: Science is really useful. However, it should be kept in mind and should not be used. In the future we would probably be able to write a book in a small room with the use of photography.

Section 3: Using the latest developments of speech recording and stenography , we will be able to make printing immediate. The advancement of photography is not going to stop. The thought process of repetition could be in relation to machine. Electrical machines will be the advancement of arithmetical computation.

Section 4: There is more to the scientific reasoning than just arithmetic. There are a few machines that are not used for arithmetic, due to the market’s needs. Solving higher mathematics require other repetitive processes of thought to be mechanized.

Section 5: A machine could be used anywhere where there is logical thought process . At this moment we do not have the necessary tools for the selection (the key to utilize science) of knowledge. One of the best forms of selection is illustrated by the automatic telephone exchange.

Section 6: There is a problem with selection. The main problem of it is the deficiency of the indexing systems. When is recorded and put into storage, it is usually filed alphabetically or numerically . The human mind works differently. It works according to association . Instead of using selection by indexing, selection by association may be mechanized. Thus, improving the permanence and clarity of the stored items. The memex is a device that could store information and communication (large memory). Some things that can be entered, newspaper and books. The user is also able to find a particular book as he or she taps on its code on the keyboard. The codes are frequently used by mnemonic and its possible to browse these pages at different speeds.

Section 7: The main feature of the memex is the ability to tie things together at will. In other words, to be able to associate two arbitrary items when wanted. The user is also able to build a trail, in which they name it, insert a name in the code book, and then taps it out on the keyboard. At any time, the user is able to view two items at the same time, parallel viewing. It is also possible to pass items to another memex.

Section 8: The trails can be published, like an encyclopedia (many more new forms are to appear). Soon we will be able to establish our relationship with the senses, tactilely, orally, and visually. It would be great for humans to be able to analyze present issues. As of now, science has been applied to live better. Possibly we may be able to make the record to become wiser.

Critical opinion

“As We May Think” has turned out to be a visionary and influential essay. In their introduction to a paper discussing information literacy as a discipline, Johnston and Webber write

Bush’s paper might be described as a microcosm of the information society, with the boundaries of the world and the experiences of a scientist of the time, rather than the more open knowledge spaces of the 21st century. Bush provides a core vision of the importance of information to the industrial / scientific society, using the image of an “information explosion” arising from the unprecedented demands on scientific production and technological application of World War II. He outlines a version of the subject of science as a key discipline within the practice of scientific and technical knowledge domains. His view of the problems of information and the need for effective currency management.

-  Johnston and Webber [4]

Indeed, Bush was very concerned with information overload inhibiting the research efforts of scientists. His scientist, operating under conditions of “Information Explosion” and arguing for the information of scientific documents could be construed as a nascent image of the “Information Literate Person” in an information saturated society.

There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers.

-  Vannevar Bush [3]

Schools, colleges, health care, government, etc., are all implicated in the distribution and use of information, under similar conditions of “information explosion” as Bush’s post-war scientists. All these people arguably need some sort of personal “information control” in order to function.

-  Bill Johnston, Sheila Webber [4]

See also

  • Timeline of hypertext technology
  • Douglas Engelbart


  1. ^ Jump up to:f Wardrip-Fruin, Noah; Montfort, Nick (2003). The New Media Reader . The MIT Press. ISBN  9780262232272 .
  2. Jump up^ Nyce, James M .; Kahn, Paul W. (1991). From Memex to Hypertext – Vannevar Bush and the Mind’s Machine . Academic Press. ISBN  9781493301713 .
  3. ^ Jump up to:h Bush Vannevar (July 1945). “As We May Think” . The Atlantic .
  4. ^ Jump up to:b Johnston; Webber (2006). “As We May Think: Information literacy as a discipline for the information age”. Research Strategies . 20 : 108-121. doi : 10.1016 / j.resstr.2006.06.005 .

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