I live in a fairly rural town at the start of the Northern Neck of Virginia. Some argue that we’re the “Gateway to the Northern Neck,” as our welcome sign proudly states. Regardless of the term we use, geographically we’re situated at a bend in the Potomac River before it feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. I bring this up because the reason I, and around 70% of people I know, live in King George is that it’s home to Dahlgren, a Naval Surface Warfare Base (from what I’m told the bend in the river makes this spot ideal). I’m not qualified to say this but something tells me that if Dahlgren were to cease to exist, King George would just about be finished, too.
While my dad has since changed career paths, my family was moved to KG in the early 90s when my dad got stationed here. After retiring from the Navy, he worked with government contractors outside the base doing basically the same thing he would have been doing inside base. My dad used to joke that he could never wish for world peace because he’d be out of a job. While reading the beginning of the assigned reading for this week, I had this in mind. While my family is not directly dependent on the base anymore (although I’m sure I could find several ways if I let my mind wander), just about all my friends’ parents, the parents of the kids I babysat, and the spouses of most of my teachers growing up depend on the work from the base in one way or another.
I have often asked the same question Bush poses at the beginning of the text, although admittedly not as thoughtfully and clearly: what are the scientists to do next? While I think the need for war-related research isn’t going away anytime soon, it’s cool to know that people were asking this question almost 75 years ago, the same way I’m asking it now (yay progress). I’m fascinated by where Bush’s mind goes with his answer, so I think I’ll just dive right in. My response will be organized via association, rather than an index, as per his suggestion. 😉 .
I love that Bush explains how ineffective a car would have been to make in Ancient Egypt. I think of all the technology that I’ve thought “oh well, that’s more effort than it’s worth” without thinking of the possibilities it could hold. Often times, the first edition of a tool takes longer and is more difficult to use than using no tool at all (in the example of writing vs typing). However, once we get to later editions we cannot imagine our lives without these tools. I think sometimes it’s difficult to think so long term and remember that what we’re working on now, might be of some use down the road. When I was younger and I tied two rakes to the back of my Barbie Jeep to rake the leaves in the driveway (a project that took twice as long to construct as would have taken to just rake the leaves by hand- and worked about half as well) my dad explained how his job as a mathematician was all about spending more time in order to find the easiest way to do something. The first time around, these tools we spend so much time making are often ineffective in terms of time and resources, but they open the door to making the tasks easier in the future. Since I’m only 22, I can hardly remember a life without internet, but I’m assuming when people first started using it, while there was excitement for the future, there was also a question of if it was worth it.
This way of thinking can be directly applied to much of what we do in terms of incorporating technology into higher education. Although the internet is pretty much used across the board, there are other technological tools that I think professors and universities are slow to adopt. It can be difficult and even seem forced when we try incorporating these new tools, but with time, it might be hard to imagine a college education without them. I think this falls in line with accessibility of ideas.
What I really love about Bush’s vision for the future, is the idea of making things permanent. I think that the concept of permanence is partially what compels us to write and to speak. We have an idea and we want people to have access to that idea. While having an idea is great, if we don’t remember or share this idea, it’s not of too much use. If we never act to make the idea a reality, it’s even less useful. Additionally, if we can store an idea but don’t have any way of getting to it, there’s no real reason for it to be stored. We feel the need to share our ideas and give them some permanence.
Whenever I think of the internet, I think of it as both permanent and temporary. Teens are warned to think before posting as “nothing ever really goes away on the internet” but at the same time, if the internet stopped working one day, most information (regardless of importance) would be lost forever. We currently are saving and sharing our ideas when we write and present our research, when we tweet and post our thoughts, and when we comment our opinions. We have shared our thoughts with the world and they are timestamped so that everyone knows when we had them. But is there a way to improve what we’re currently doing now? How do we file away and share the information in a way for others to easily search and find these thoughts? And by that I mean, how do we share our ideas, our knowledge, and our passion in way that’s easily accessible?
I have no clue, that’s why I’m trying to spend more time reading everyone else’s thoughts rather than writing my own, but I don’t think the answer is super simple, just because something as incredible as the internet exists.
While this article was written almost 75 years ago, with a few tweaks it could read like it was written last week. Although we have the internet now, and almost everything he envisioned for the future seems to already exist, the need for a better way to share information is something we can still work on. Now the problem seems not to be the way the information is organized, but how we make it accessible for others.
Lastly, On a practical note, I can’t help but wish for this idea of the memex exactly as Bush described. I have a series of folders on my laptop labeled “screenshots and such” that I’d conservatively estimate have anywhere from two to three thousand screenshots in them. I’ve spent hours upon hours organizing these screenshots into folders (which could still use quite a bit more organization), so the idea of a device in the future that could organize everything for me sounds exciting. Maybe it’s time for me to get started making my next tool.