The Memex

In 1945, Vannevar Bush coined the term "memex," or the long-version: memory index. It was a concept that combined a few simple technologies to recreate the human brain process of memory storage and organization. This would make even the most complex knowledge easily accessible. Although it took nearly 45 years for the World Wide Web to stem from this idea (as well as today's hypertext language) the memex can bee seen as the basis of the Personal Computer.


"The world has arrived at an age of cheap complex devices of great reliability; and something is bound to come of it."

By taking certain forms of information storage, Bush encouraged scientists to combine them and create a library index. Information would be stored on a series of micro film strips and, if recorded correctly in your personal code book, you could easily pull up your pre-recorded information.

How Did the Memex Work?

While Bush's machine was never built, the theoretical machine consisted of two viewing screens, which would display the items that an individual was looking at. These screens could be used independently of one another, making the machine able to show two documents simultaneously. In the bottom corner of both screens would be a small indicator showing how many links each document contained. Controlling the screens was a keyboard, which was made up of a lever and a series of buttons. The lever could be moved to the right or left to advance or go back to a different page. Each button corresponded to a specific link in the page, meaning that you could access any page of the document without having to individually flip through every page.

Accompanying the screens was a camera on the left side of the device. The camera was used to upload new documents to the device, through simply taking a picture of the item a person wished to display. After taking a photo of the desired page, the document would then appear on the viewing screen. Additional pictures could also be taken and would then provide a running system of links, called a trail, which could be accessed by the keyboard. This new trail would be saved on a film reel stored in the machine. Deletion of photos was also possible if the initial attempt didn't work. Using a system of these film reels, a person could access any trail that a person had created on the machine before them, as well as create a trail of their own.

What Bush intended was that in compiling the World's information into microfilms that could be accessed, processed, and redistributed, the memex could act as a knowledge base for any subject in the world. Many of the functions of his machine (such as uploading, linking, even navigation through links) would eventually be implemented in the construction of the world wide web. -AidanAnderson

Would you like more information?

See also TheWikiAsAMemex

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