TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: and the Memex

Write Randall Packer and Ken Jordan in their introduction to Vannevar Bushs paper in their book Multimedia: From Wagner to Reality:

Bush [proposed] a solution to what he considered the paramount challenge of the day: how information would be gathered, stored, and accessed in an increasingly information-saturated worldAlthough he addresses the subject from the vantage point of the 1940s technology relying on film processing, microfilm storage, and mechanical retrieval Bush introduces many of the concepts central to hypermedia. The machine that he proposes, the memex, is a new approach to the storing and sharing of information a memory extender (hence memex) that could organize diverse materials according to an individuals own personal associations. Conceived as a vast encyclopedia of text, images and sounds that is able to mimic the minds capability to link between ideas freely, the memex would effectively remember the leaps of thought someone had while researching a particular topic, and then make that trail of associations available to others. Bush never used the word hyperlink, but in his essay he invented that notion.

Adds Adam Brates in his book Technomanifestos: Visions from the Information Revolutionaries:

Bush imagined the memex to be an enlarged, intimate supplement of the human memory. The user would store in the computers memory magazines, newspapers, photographs, manuscripts, books, and letters. He or she would establish links trails between implicitly related documents. The memex philosophy:

We should no longer organize information in classes, subclasses and sub-subclasses.
Information should be organized by association. When an item is selected, the device should jump to the next item, and then to a third, and so on. These trails are like synapses in the brain.
Like those of memory, these trails should bifurcate, cross other trails, and become complex.
If items are used, such trails should be emphasized. If not used, they should fade out.
The machine should be fast faster and more intuitive than any existing means of information retrieval.

Bush imagined that the memex would revolutionise not only the organization of information, but its use and form. New encyclopedias and newspapers would contain built-in associative trails. Lawyers would be able to tie one case to the rest in legal history. Scientists and technologists could develop projects by building on the pieces of past projects and finding associations between different disciplines. The problem with specialization would diminish as users found links that transcended time, place and disciplineUsers could hop, skip, and jump along trails, finding easy, intuitive ways to draw parallels and patterns. All information could be expressed as pattern and path.

In the best of worlds, the memex would empower the individual as well as the community in which the individual works. Colleagues could share trailsYet each station would also be unique, incorporating the users own trails and person documents.

Tomorrow: As We May Think

TECH TALK Constructing the Memex+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.