Bush, As We May Think

For our second meeting of the New Media Seminar I’m participating in, we were assigned to read Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think” and to blog about a meaningful nugget/passage.

Some things that stand out for me about the text is the ways in which Bush was concerned with several dimensions with regards to technological development, including its relationship with professional practice, widened access to information, as well as speed, size (“microphotography”!), cost, and ethical issues, of sorts. It also made me think about how both machines and human beings seem to have become increasingly multifunctional, most likely as result of that increased access to knowledge. I’m thinking about the strong DIY ethic visible on Pinterest and YouTube tutorials, for instance. I wonder what factors contributed to this direction in tech development.

Anyway, my nugget. I think there were several interesting points worth discussing, and I’m reminded of some other conversations that I may be able to incorporate. But, because I’m doing this at the very last minute, my response will be pretty brief, and will be mostly questions. I’ll start with the following, near the end of the text:

Presumably man’s spirit should be elevated if he can better review his shady past and analyze more completely and objectively his present problems. He has built a civilization so complex that he needs to mechanize his records more fully if he is to push his experiment to its logical conclusion and not merely become bogged down part way there by overtaxing his limited memory.

What immediately stands out to me is the clear rhetoric of progress, from “man’s” “shady past” toward “objectivity,” a “logical conclusion” wherein the goal seems to be “complete” and “objective” analysis of “his” problems. This theme regarding objective logic appears throughout the text, and stands out to me because of its cultured undertones. A second example:

Whenever logical processes of thought are employed–that is, whenever thought for a time runs along an accepted groove–there is an opportunity for the machine. Formal logic used to be a keen instrument in the hands of the teacher in his trying of students’ souls. It is readily possible to construct a machine which will manipulate premises in accordance with formal logic, simply by the clever use of relay circuits. Put a set of premises into such a device and turn the crank, and it will readily pass out conclusion after conclusion, all in accordance with logical law, and with no more slips than would be expected of a keyboard adding machine. (42)

Are there limitations to conceptualizing logic in this sort of way? That is, what complex realities become hidden when we abide by logics that consist of a limited set of reasonable outcomes?

These questions might be illustrated through a discussion surrounding this quote:

It is a far cry from the abacus to the modern keyboard accounting machine. (42)

While this statement may seem readily apparent in certain ways, is it worthwhile to talk about what logics, values, contexts, and goals this statement is contingent upon?

To turn toward a different–but related–direction,

As the scientist of the future moves about the laboratory or the field, every time he looks at something worthy of the record, he trips the shutter and in it goes, without even an audible click. Is this all fantastic? The only fantastic thing about it is the idea of making as many pictures as would result from its use. (39)

What repercussions, if any, exist with an almost obsessive attitude toward amassing knowledge? I’m imagining if it got to the point where we wanted to keep track of everything within our experience, everything throughout our day to day professional and personal lives, including our sleep patterns, which I suppose some people already do with Fitbits and such. What, if anything, is lost?

Okay, so next time (if we end up having to blog and respond to something again) I will get this done earlier. I said it on the internet, so now it will magically happen, right?

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