I Really Don't Get What the Big Deal Is
“Vannevar Bush’s famous paper “As We May Think” (1945) described an imaginary information retrieval machine, the Memex.”
--From “Emanuel Goldberg, Electronic Document Retrieval, And Vannevar Bush's Memex” by Michael K. Buckland
For me, this is the most important sentence in the entire article because it sums up the entire thing: this invention was never invented. How can something that was never made be “viewed in relation to subsequent developments using digital computers.” Bush may have had the plans for the machine, but because it was never actually made, no one knows if it could have worked. In fact, the article basically says it would not have worked, at least not with the technology of the time period, because it was based on a classification system of “ ‘Associative trails’ “ rather than “subject-based indexing.” The article suggests that these “associative trails” mimic human thought processes and individualized relationships that the brain creates between words, sounds, smells, ideas, etc. This type of technology would probably not even be able to be developed today. Furthermore, no one has ever tried to create this system. People have recreated some of Da Vinci’s inventions and even catapults and other weapons from the Middle Ages, but they have never attempted to recreate this invention? I find this highly suspicious. So why is there all of the hype about this imaginary machine that wouldn’t have worked even if it Bush, or people today, attempted to build it?
However, Goldberg’s machine that did have working prototypes seems much more important to the development to me, whether or not Bush based his idea on one of these. Goldberg’s ideas were much more realistic, actually affected real companies such as IBM and Kodak, and seemed to stream directly from a history of development, rather than Bush’s seemingly sudden creation (except that it was never created). Although Bush had great ideas, they were not feasible then or now. Ideas are wonderful, but only if they are applied in the real world in a positive way. Buckland suggests that the only way that Bush’s ideas applied to the real world were by “open[ing] people’s eyes and purses” to a more technologically driven future. This is important, but to consumerism rather than to technological development.