As We May Think
As We May Think, Vannevar Bush (1945)
This is one of the most miserable things I have ever had to read. It took forever and hardly went anywhere in all that time. Perhaps I am utterly failing with this reflection by calling this article a waste of my time… but that is my honest conclusion upon reflection. I spent 5 minutes trying to find an excerpt that highlights how tedious this article is. So many choices. Here’s a random one.
The impulses which flow in the arm nerves of a typist convey to her fingers the translated information which reaches her eye or ear, in order that the fingers may be caused to strike the proper keys. Might not these currents be intercepted, either in the original form in which information is conveyed to the brain, or in the marvelously metamorphosed form in which they then proceed to the hand?
I want to poke my own eyes out.
Vannevar’s prophecies (and they are prophesies of substance by his own definition) are quite striking, though drowned in excessive, terribly boring verbiage. He seems to foresee voice-to-text capabilities, instant pictures, even wearables. Certainly he sees the need for and has a rudimentary idea for a sort of computer that stores and allows us to access and find information.
Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory. It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk. (p. 7)
That sounds an awful lot like your computer, doesn’t it?
He sees the need for information to be dynamically linked by “association,” relationships between concepts within each piece of information. Though no less miserable reading this in a history of computers class or in an introductory class in library school, it would make much more sense to me to read it there. I am utterly baffled at what the connection is to it and a course on digital citizenship. Perhaps I will be enlightened when I read the reflections of my classmates. in the meantime, I mourn the hours I spent on this to no benefit.
Gardner Campbell proposes the idea of a cyberinfrastructure as a key component of a college education in the essay of the same name.
So, how might colleges and universities shape curricula to support and inspire the imaginations that students need? Here’s one idea. Suppose that when students matriculate, they are assigned their own web servers… As part of the first-year orientation, each student would pick a domain name. Over the course of the first year, in a set of lab seminars facilitated by instructional technologists, librarians, and faculty advisors from across the curriculum, students would build out their digital presences in an environment made of the medium of the web itself. They would experiment with server management tools… install scripts with one-click installers such as SimpleScripts… play with wikis and blogs; they would tinker and begin to assemble a platform to support their publishing, their archiving, their importing and exporting, their internal and external information connections.
They would become, in myriad small but important ways, system administrators for their own digital lives. In short, students would build a personal cyberinfrastructure, one they would continue to modify and extend throughout their college career — and beyond.
In building that personal cyberinfrastructure, students not only would acquire crucial technical skills for their digital lives but also would engage in work that provides richly teachable moments ranging from multimodal writing to information science, knowledge management, bibliographic instruction, and social networking. Fascinating and important innovations would emerge as students are able to shape their own cognition, learning, expression, and reflection in a digital age, in a digital medium. Students would frame, curate, share, and direct their own “engagement streams” throughout the learning environment.
In his subsequent video, he proposes we take it even further and encourage and empower students to manage their own servers as a means for maximum control of one’s own cyberinfrastructure — or at least understand how to as a means of really understanding the internet.
Though I stumble on the term cyberinfrastructure and disagree about the level to which students should know about these things, I agree with his notion that building one’s home on the web and actively learning how to do so should be an essential part of the overall college curriculum. With the world and workplace as it is now, the majority of people need to have this sort of central web presence to point people to as they apply for jobs, collaborate at work, and fully engage online. Waiting until you need one is a terrible strategy as a robust website cannot be built overnight. Having an archive of your past work and thought is also invaluable for reflection, as well as being able to go back and reference something you did before to refresh yourself.
The technology skills it requires are similarly necessary — at least at a basic level. Setting up a domain, installing WordPress, and working within it seems sufficient to me. I absolutely do not see the need to take it to the server level, though I can support the notion that graduates should have an understanding of what servers really are and how the internet works.