Reflection on Vannevar Bush article As We May Think

Reflection on Vannevar Bush article As We May Think

The American scientist Vannevar Bush published the article As We May Think in 1944. In the article he reasoned about the need of inventing powerful tools to connect information in books, notes and letters so that people in a better and more efficient way could share and inherit knowledge.

Bush estimated that the amount of information at the time was so large that it was hard or even impossible to approach. Bush is not the first person to document such a worry about the development considering more and more information. Roger Bacon, Samuel Johnson och Konrad Geßner worte in their work Bibliotheca Universalis in 1545 a warning about “confusing and harmful abundance of books” (They also discussed strategies on how not to be stressed about this fenomenon – an issue still discussed).

Bosh also shows a fascination over the possibilities that new technology, in his case microfilm, provides in its ability to compress information. He exemplifies by stating that the entire Encyclopedia Britannica as microfilm would fit into a box of matches. The article is written before the knowledge about digitalization existed and Bush discussion about the possibilities with information storage and retrieval in an effective way return in other literature, among others concerning data and Internet development. Consider how much information we today can store in a USB powered flash storage memory.

It´s an interesting thought to consider how Claude Shannon at the age of 32 published a scientific report titled “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” in 1948 introducing a measurement of information we still use. Shannon had the goal to find this measurement and introduced the concept of the Bit. The bit, or databit, is the smallest representation of a number or an logical unit  in digital technology and is represented by a zero or a one.

It´s possible to reflect on Bush´s way of thinking would have been influenced by Shannons ideas on how to describe information and digitalization. How would the article “As we may think” developed in that case?

This is also an example on the problems Bush addresses. Knowledge and scientific creations were not available for those who wanted to read them. There was a time lag which depended on that the information was published on paper, distances between for example Europe and the America resulted in that information, ideas, results and people took its time to spread. Today the spread of information is almost instant, even though people still tend to move slower.

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