Vannever Bush

I have to say in reading As We May Think  by Vannever Bush, I was blown away by his vision of the future and how much of it is a reality for us today. It also made me think of conversations I have had with my 91 year old grandfather about the technological advances he’s seen in his lifetime (These conversations were largely sparked because I am of the age where I can remember a time before personal computers, let alone smartphones and the like).

The idea of making predictions for 60 years from now is overwhelming because it is really hard to imagine what things will be like when I am 94.

I think his ideas on compiling, synthesizing and transmitting information resonated most with me, especially considering I was raised in the the period bridging the gap between physical/analog data and the digital compilation and transmission of data.

I remember being 7 and begging for a set of encyclopedias. The cost was prohibitive to a family of limited means AND they needed to be updated. It was much easier to go to the library, where you were going to find more updated means of data transmission. Up to date encyclopedias, microfiche and more. There was skill involved in performing research. You had to have knowledge of how to use a card catalog, search the stacks and how to cite information properly

Today cost and outdated information are not even really a concern. (verifying the veracity of the information is a whole separate beast these days because there are so many sources of data, not all are necessarily from acceptable sources) So much has been automated for us (type in a search term and look at links, fill in a few fields on a form to get your citations formatted for you, etc.), that synthesis of information has taken a new direction.

Also his ideas of developing a universal language that lends itself to mechanization was important as well, though I’m not entirely certain our current ways of communicating digitally would please him. We have truncated and bastardized language into emojii and shorthand, infographics and video in the digital world. I personally love language, text and information. I despise clicking a link only to be taken to a video instead of an article.

His ideas of dictation have radically impacted and changed my world. I was a legal secretary in a time when an attorney did dictation and the secretary then transcribed and typed the dictation. I worked with an attorney in the early 2000’s that was one of the first to embrace Dragon. Dragon is basically the software Bush describes thusly:

“One can now picture a future investigator in his laboratory. His hands are free, and he is not anchored. As he moves about and observes, he photographs and comments. Time is automatically recorded to tie the two records together. If he goes into the field, he may be connected by radio to his recorder. As he ponders over his notes in the evening, he again talks his comments into the record. His typed record, as well as his photographs, may both be in miniature, so that he projects them for examination.”

It changed my work flow dramatically (though it didn’t put me out of a job as so many people thought it would – the technology was still bad at learning the users and required heavy editing, but it also helped me out years later when I lost use of my arm and had difficulty typing). It changed the entire face of an industry.

So many of Bush’s ideas have been brought to life in even the last 20 years that it is amazing. I have some serious thinking to do to come up with 3 predictions for predictions 60 years hence!

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