As We May Think | Study Guide

Vannevar Bush

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As We May Think | Quotes


Burying ... competition in the demand of a common cause, have shared greatly and learned much.

Vannevar Bush

Bush describes how scientists worked together to advance the war effort during World War II. It is one of the first times that so many scientists from different scientific disciplines worked together on a common goal.


Now, as peace approaches, one asks where they will find objectives worthy of their best.

Vannevar Bush

Because the war is ending, Bush believes that scientists must realign their goals to peacetime. Bush consequently explores the future of technology and science in a post-World War II world.


But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends.

Vannevar Bush

Bush believes specialization is necessary for science to progress, but he worries that the volume of research generated by this specialization will overwhelm researchers. The information might be unusable because of current record-keeping systems.


Publication has been extended ... beyond our present ability to make real use of the record.

Vannevar Bush

Bush restates his concern that the volume of information makes it difficult to actually use the information.


The world has arrived at an age of cheap complex devices of great reliability.

Vannevar Bush

Interchangeable parts and other innovations have made technology more affordable. Bush imagines a time when all people can afford to have a memex in their homes.


Useful to science, must be continuously extended, it must be stored, and above all it must be consulted.

Vannevar Bush

Bush reiterates that for scientific research to be helpful, it must be in a form that can be readily accessed. Bush believes that if people cannot find the results of scientific research easily or at all, they cannot use this information to progress science. Research that goes unused is not helpful.


A library of a million volumes could be compressed into one end of a desk.

Vannevar Bush

Bush envisions electronic libraries and electronic storage of information. At a time when a researcher would need a library filled with thousands of books, Bush believed that one day this information would fit on a small machine and be accessible to people in their own homes.


The material for the microfilm Britannica would cost a nickel, and it could be mailed anywhere for a cent.

Vannevar Bush

Britannica was a brand of encyclopedias that consisted of dozens of books that were very expensive. Bush imagines a reality where much of the world's knowledge including encyclopedias can be stored in a single device. This would make encyclopedias and other books cheap and easily transportable.


Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing.

Vannevar Bush

Bush argues that databases need a system of indexing that uses associations between ideas. For it to be useful, the indexing system must resemble human thought.


The human mind does not work that way.

Vannevar Bush

Bush suggests that the human mind works by instantly making associations between words, images, and thoughts. It does not work by indexing ideas alphabetically.


Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library.

Vannevar Bush

Bush describes the device he calls a memex and predicts the future of personal computers with great accuracy.


Numerous items have been thus joined together to form a trail, they can be reviewed in turn, rapidly or slowly.

Vannevar Bush

Bush explains that the memex would have the ability to join user searches to create a trail. Bush's system allows memex users to create associations between related ideas and phrases. People can save and later connect the ideas they have explored. This idea is the precursor to hypertext used today.


Additions to the world's record, but for ... the entire scaffolding by which they were erected.

Vannevar Bush

Bush's statement on information as inheritance is frequently quoted. Scaffolding refers to the organization of connected ideas in an ocean of information. Science's legacy will not be the data this generation creates but the system of organization that allows the data to be useful.


Needs to mechanize his records ... not become bogged down ... by overtaxing his limited memory.

Vannevar Bush

Bush stresses the importance of having a way to store and locate scientific information. According to Bush such a system frees scientists from being required to memorize information. They can subsequently dedicate all of their efforts to science.


He may perish in conflict before he learns to wield that record for his true good.

Vannevar Bush

Bush refers to the negative outcomes that are possible if science continues on its current path. Science focused on destructive forces throughout the war, and this focus led to the creation of the atom bomb as the ultimate destructive device. At the time of this article's publication, the United States had not yet dropped atom bombs on Japanese cities. Due to his involvement in creating U.S. nuclear weapons and his observation of the atomic bomb's detonation, Bush knew science's capacity for destruction.

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