Bush’s Fear

Vannevar Bush wrote his article only a month prior to the end of WWII.  As everyone knows the war was ended by the use of the atomic bomb.  The weapon existed because of the work of scientists and with their work they produced reams of new information and data.  Bush was concerned in this new age scientists would begin to produce ever larger volumes of information until it became too much for any one individual to examine.  There would simply be so much information that important data would be missed, not understood and ultimately society would suffer.  For Bush his fear was ending up like Jorge Luis Borges’ Library of Babel; a universe full knowledge, all of it useless.

Both Bush and Borges shared a similar fear of being overwhelmed with too much information.  Certainly the cry of “too much information” is often heard today when people speak of the Internet.  The Men of the Library were like many of us, sure all the answers existed but with no idea of how to find them.  And that is the difficulty of information, it is partly dependent on the receiver.  In and of itself information has no value.  The receiver who is able to decode the information is the one to give it value.  Sadly in the Library of Babel no one had this ability.

Bush’s piece was aggressively forward thinking for its time.  He realized both the exponential growth in information and the need to organize the information in such a way as to make it meaningful.  Sixty-eight years later society is still working on our ability to decode and give meaning to the vast quantities of information we have created.  I believe the Library of Babel is a cautionary tale reminding us of the importance of the organizational work Bush recommended.

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2 responses to “Bush’s Fear

  1. I think Bush not only identified the problems or challenges (“fear” in your term), he also proposed quite a few visionary “solutions,” some of which have indeed come true. We have made tremendous progress in implementing his “blueprint.” Sixty-eight years later his vision is still a valuable guideline.

  2. Terrific response, and insightful comment, both! Very thoughtful way to tie the two pieces together, and bring them into the present. Well done.

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