Tags: meme

5

sparkline

An associative trail

Every now and then, I like to revisit Vannevar Bush’s classic article from the July 1945 edition of the Atlantic Monthly called As We May Think in which he describes a theoretical machine called the memex.

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.

1945! Apart from its analogue rather than digital nature, it’s a remarkably prescient vision. In particular, there’s the idea of “associative trails”:

Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities.

Many decades later, Anne Washington ponders what a legal memex might look like:

My legal Memex builds a network of the people and laws available in the public records of politicians and organizations. The infrastructure for this vision relies on open data, free access to law, and instantaneously availability.

As John Sheridan from the UK’s National Archives points out, hypertext is the perfect medium for laws:

Despite the drafter’s best efforts to create a narrative structure that tells a story through the flow of provisions, legislation is intrinsically non-linear content. It positively lends itself to a hypertext based approach. The need for legislation to escape the confines of the printed form predates the all major innovators and innovations in hypertext, from Vannevar Bush’s vision in ” As We May Think“, to Ted Nelson’s coining of the term “hypertext”, through to and Berners-Lee’s breakthrough world wide web. I like to think that Nelson’s concept of transclusion was foreshadowed several decades earlier by the textual amendment (where one Act explicitly alters – inserts, omits or amends – the text of another Act, an approach introduced to UK legislation at the beginning of the 20th century).

That’s from a piece called Deeply Intertwingled Laws. The verb “to intertwingle” was another one of Ted Nelson’s neologisms.

There’s an associative trail from Vannevar Bush to Ted Nelson that takes some other interesting turns…

Picture a new American naval recruit in 1945, getting ready to ship out to the pacific to fight against the Japanese. Just as the ship as leaving the harbour, word comes through that the war is over. And so instead of fighting across the islands of the pacific, this young man finds himself in a hut on the Philippines, reading whatever is to hand. There’s a copy of The Atlantic Monthly, the one with an article called As We May Think. The sailor was Douglas Engelbart, and a few years later when he was deciding how he wanted to spend the rest of his life, that article led him to pursue the goal of augmenting human intellect. He gave the mother of all demos, featuring NLS, a working hypermedia system.

Later, thanks to Bill Atkinson, we’d get another system called Hypercard. It was advertised with the motto Freedom to Associate, in an advertising campaign that directly referenced Vannevar Bush.

And now I’m using the World Wide Web, a hypermedia system that takes in the whole planet, to create an associative trail. In this post, I’m linking (without asking anyone for permission) to six different sources, and in doing so, I’m creating a unique associative trail. And because this post has a URL (that won’t change), you are free to take it and make it part of your own associative trail on your digital memex.

Jerememe

Stallmania

I’m sure that by now you’ve already seen the infamous email from Richard Stallman—free software’s own worst enemy—detailing his somewhat eccentric approach to speaking at conferences.

I particularly like the memetic variation of The Stallman Dialogues. There’s a real genius in the way that it quotes passages from the email verbatim.

Y’know, I’m supposed to have a Skype call with Andy sometime next week about my upcoming talk and workshop at Build (tickets are still available for the workshop, by the way). I’m very tempted to channel my inner Stallman for the duration of our conversation.

Meeting that sad animal is not an agreeable surprise.

Eight random things

Beth has tagged me as a participant in a so-called meme which, like so many things on the internet with this label, involves very little . This one is entitled “eight random things about me.” I’ve had a look about me and here are eight random things:

  1. A piece of lego.
  2. The ceiling.
  3. Richard.
  4. Sticky notes.
  5. A bookshelf.
  6. My keyboard.
  7. A pen.
  8. A nice cup of tea.

At this point I’m supposed to pass the baton. I hereby tag you.

Five things you may not know about Jeremy Keith

Cindy tagged me so let’s get this done.

Five things you may not know about me:

  1. My PIN.
  2. The root password for my computer.
  3. Where I put the front door key.
  4. My sexual peccadillos.
  5. What I’ve got in my pocketses.

There. That wasn’t so hard.

I don’t think I’ll tag anyone because everyone else seems to have fundamentally misinterpreted the question.