Digital Media

Monday, October 23, 2006

Vannevar Bush
"As We May Think"
The Atlantic Monthly July 1945

It was fun to read Vannevar Bush’s predictions for future technologies. Imagine, a color photograph that can be instantly developed! I think he was certainly insightful, though, and understood the limits of his own foresight. Bush focuses on both the ways to record knowledge, store these records and consult these records. He recognizes that the "inheritance of acquired knowledge" is useless without a way to access it.

While computers have changed the way we record information, they have changed even more the way we store it. No longer are thousands of files stored in drawers lining every wall. Instead, files are stored electronically - and then usually backed up in at least one way (computers are still far from being completely dependable after all). Bush was right when he said machines would have enormous appetites for information. Personal computers have continued to provide users with more and more memory for their files and information.

Our society has come up with some amazing ways to sort through the multitude of information, not the least of which is the search engine. When Bush describes searching through association I thought of today’s search engines. You don’t have to search alphabetically or numerically when you do a Google search. Rather, the search engine finds sites that are associated with your search word or phrase. We can, as he suggests, forget information until at such time as the information is needed. I have occasionally felt overwhelmed by all the information at my fingertips. When doing a search it is easy to click one link after another, following a trail as Bush would probably call it, and end up in a completely different place than where you started.

Computers and the Internet allow people to search for the information they want in a fraction of the time it would take without computers. I think online blogs are one effect of this. People are able to retrieve more information and they turn to blogs as a way to get more information on topics that interest them. People also expect to be able to interact with the information - to respond to it in some way.

In the future, I expect information will be very personalized. People will be able to select categories of news they would like to receive. For example: breaking news, world news (select country), national news, state news, local news, sports; and there would be sub-categories: education, technology, health, Mariners. News organizations will no longer try to figure out what the masses want to read. Rather, just as TiVo now "learns" what its users like to watch, companies will "learn" what individual consumers want to know and they will provide them with that specific information. Users’ sites will be customized. I don’t think it will take until 2050 to get to this point though. We’re already headed in that direction and I think most of the technology is already available.


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