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This may be the most interesting thing you'll read today...

Srikanth
happy dev.
Updated on ・3 min read

.. at least it has certainly been for me. 🙂

I recently picked up the book The Dream Machine, and it has been a fascinating read up to this point. It has been recommended by Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe on numerous podcasts & interviews he has appeared on.

The following is an extract from one of the early chapters about Vannevar Bush who was the Dean of MIT during the 1930s. Bush had come with a concept he called Memex, around that time, which was a hypothetical desktop microfilm project to store and access information.

Nonetheless, his vision of high technology’s enhancing and empowering the individual, as opposed to serving some large institution, was quite radical for 1939—so radical, in fact, that it wouldn’t really take hold of the public’s imagination for another forty years, at which point it would reemerge as the central message of the personal-computer revolution. Even more radical, however, was Bush’s second new idea, which was the mechanism for implementing his vision. Instead of storing those countless microfilmed pages alphabetically, or according to subject, or by any of the other indexing methods in common use—all of which he found hopelessly rigid and arbitrary—Bush proposed a system based on the structure of thought itself. “The human mind ... operates by association,” he noted. “With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. ... The speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures [are] awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.” By analogy, he continued, the desk library would allow its user to forge a link between any two items that seemed to have an association (the example he used was an article on the English long bow, which would be linked to a separate article on the Turkish short bow; the actual mechanism of the link would be a symbolic code imprinted on the microfilm next to the two items). “Thereafter,” wrote Bush, “when one of these items is in view, the other can be instantly recalled merely by tapping a button. ... It is exactly as though the physical items had been gathered together from widely separated sources and bound together to form a new book. It is more than this, for any item can be joined into numerous trails.” Such a device needed a name, added Bush, and the analogy to human memory suggested one: “Memex.” This name also appeared for the first time in the 1939 draft.
In any case, Bush continued, once a Memex user had created an associative trail, he or she could copy it and exchange it with others. This meant that the construction of trails would quickly become a community endeavor, which would over time produce a vast, ever-expanding, and ever more richly cross-linked web of all human knowledge. Bush never explained where this notion of associative trails had come from (if he even knew; sometimes things just pop into our heads). But there is no doubt that it ranks as the Yankee Inventor’s most profoundly original idea. Today we know it as hypertext. And that vast, hyperlinked web of knowledge is called the World Wide Web.

[1] Blitzscaling 11: Patrick Collison on Hiring at Stripe and the Role of a Product-Focused CEO
[2] Tim Ferris Show - Patrick Collison — CEO of Stripe (#353)

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