As We May Do

“What gunpowder did for war the printing press has done for the mind.” -Wendell Phillips

May we not draw a similar correlation between the atomic bomb and the computer? While the atom bomb was capable of leveling entire cities, destroying entire populaces, the computer helped us do things better, more efficiently, and, through the internet, connect people worlds apart and show us that, deep down, we’re not so different.

In As We May Think, Bush describes an endless world of potential that awaits us in the future: cameras so small they can ride atop your head, capable of taking literally hundreds of pictures; machines capable of hearing and then recording human speech; machines to do lower mathmatics, from humble addition to mighty calculus, so that those wizards of numbers may work and play with heady theory; the compression of information to the point where an entire set of encyclopedias, large tomes brimming with knowledge, can fit on one small page; an invention that will streamline purchases with naught but a few cards; and his crowning achievement- a great machine, the size and shape of a desk, that contains data but a touch away, that allows for manipulation of that data, that keeps the information hidden away for later use all with but a few simple codes.

But look around you and you realize: we’re already there. No longer do we think, but we do.  That small camera, capable of instant shots and with hundreds of images? The humble cell phone, at your service. It is not merely a camera, but also serves for communication, interaction, even entertainment! Sure, we have other, better cameras, but they simply do not have the same ease of use.

Vocal technology is here as well. True, it is buggy and no where near as widespread as Bush predicted, but the point is it IS here.

Compression? We got that- countless programs use it, pulling up files only as needed.

When was the last time you EVER saw anyone write anything down during a purchase? Truly, everything about the process is automated.

And last we come to the memex, Bush’s brain child. True, it was never realized in the form he supposed, but something much, much, MUCH greater was- the computer. That on which I’m typing, that through which you read. Information a plenty, stored on my computer is at my fingertips. But, even better, the internet. It has all I could ever wish to know and allows unparalleled communication throughout the world.

Bush had no idea of what would come of his musings; computers, the internet, automation, and more. He ends his article with the hope that, through better understanding of our dark past we could make a brighter future. True, this has yet to happen, but the internet has brought about unparalleled closeness, a new love of freedom, and even a measure of political freedom to the once oppressed.

Maybe we ARE on the verge of an even greater age?

Or maybe we simply teeter on the brink of destruction.

I’ll let you decide.

Published in: on September 2, 2009 at 11:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

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