I didn’t realize The Atlantic was as old as this Vannevar Bush paper from 1945. It seems as though the feeling that there is far too much information being produced to possibly organize, let alone consume, is not unique to the post-Internet age, but rather has been a struggle since the vacuum tube was considered an emerging technology.
The memex, a technology Bush imagines in the paper, sounds very much like the phones and computers we now have within our grasp so readily: “A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.” I have often thought of my phone, and by extension the internet, to be some kind of external brain–that things like facts don’t require memorization because they are so easily stored and found by other means. This does cause frustration when I can’t quite remember something and my email, calendar, or google won’t load. I have wondered whether there might have been some intrinsic and creative value to having all those facts memorized, and thus easily retrievable. Bush also makes the point that the sheer volume of information makes keeping up with new information impossible.
Along with the memex, Bush anticipates many of the trends that have since changed the labor market since then, including increased specialization and the mechanization of many jobs. Increased specialization does seem to go hand in hand with the organization of the massively records of human knowledge, which we’ve been able to build on like never before. At the same time, being broadly knowledgable, and being able to transfer lessons and techniques from one area of expertise to another can stimulates creativity and innovation. He argues jobs that rely on well-defined logic are well suited for mechanization, and if that’s true, perhaps this knowledge cross-over is one way human labor will remain important to the economy.
I wanted to work within the constraints of HTML and CSS, especially since I could use the practice: Hide & Seek.