Vannevar Bush’s article, As We May Think, is a very interesting glance into the state of technological and scientific evolution directly after the Second World War. It gives insight into how a very informed and intelligent individual forms his ideas about what the future will look like. I was fascinated at how close Bush comes in describing what new technology will accomplish, even if how that technology works is not accurate.
An interesting influence of technological innovation that Bush discusses is that of supply and demand. 70 years ago there was not enough demand that warranted innovation to make tasks easier in the long run (though maybe not more efficient in the short term). An example cited is that of Leibnitz’ calculating machine, and how it wasn’t an improvement over pen and paper, so people were not adopting it or working to refine it. In hindsight, we now know how important ‘calculating machines’ leading to computers have been for society, ushering in a wealth of knowledge and innovation. At the same time, considering that innovation could have happened sooner if there was a bigger need is still a very relevant concept in today’s society: issues like greener energy, efficient and clean vehicles, and global warming are only recently being pushed to the forefront despite decades of depleting energy sources and a decaying ozone layer.
What I found most intriguing about the article was how a very intellectual person in the 1940’s was very capable of stating the tasks that new technology would be able to accomplish. He illustrates this well describing the camera of the future:
“The camera hound of the future wears on his forehead a lump a little larger than a walnut. It takes pictures 3 millimeters square, later to be projected or enlarged, which after all involves only a factor of 10 beyond present practice. The lens is of universal focus, down to any distance accommodated by the unaided eye, simply because it is of short focal length. There is a built-in photocell on the walnut such as we now have on at least one camera, which automatically adjusts exposure for a wide range of illumination. There is film in the walnut for a hundred exposures, and the spring for operating its shutter and shifting its film is wound once for all when the film clip is inserted. It produces its result in full colour.“
Bush is essentially describing today’s digital camera. It’s interesting how he is able to describe the attributes of a modern day camera, but within the constructs of an analog world. It takes a great deal of intellect and creativity to think outside of the box and picture another world where information can be shared in a completely different way (i.e. digital vs. analog). But I think it’s interesting how global thought leaders are more capable of morphing existing technology to suit the needs of the future than think about something completely new to accomplish those tasks. It makes me ponder what could potentially be a next step in technological evolution in today’s world.
Relating to Networked Media, Bush very much outlines the original tasks of the Internet. He never considers the network aspect of it, but instead what it accomplishes; indexing. He pictures it housed within a desk workspace, where someone can sit, call up an index number and an article will appear, blown up exponentially from the microfilm that the newspaper, encyclopedia, or journal entry is stored. The indexing number is very much like an http address, and the desk housing the information is like a primitive server. Again, Bush was a little off on the technology used to make this world he envisions possible, but the characteristics of the new technology is the same as what he proposes.
Bush’s article reminds us of the rapid technological innovation over the last 70 years, and also how great ideas can be timeless. His exposition on supply and demand is very relevant in today’s society, and his ability to describe a need is something we can currently apply, at the very least to consider what tomorrow’s innovations will accomplish.