As we may think and A brief history of the internet

I believe that Vannevar Bush's ideals have been advanced by the emergence of the internet, but not yet achieved.  Bush's broadest dream is that of "scientists, burying their old professional competition in the demand of a common that knowledge evolves and endures throughout the life of a race rather than that of an individual" (Bush, 1945).

The "academic tradition of open publication of ideas and results" (Leiner, 2003) on which the internet was founded has made its construction and documentation one aimed at the collaborative use and free dissemination of information. However, one of Bush's key insights - necessary to his goal of "man profiting by his inheritance of acquired knowledge" (Bush, 1945), has not yet been achieved.

Bush asserts that the human mind, in contrast to alphanumerical indexing schemes, "operates by association" (Bush, 1945). The inclusion of subject headings in cataloging comes closest to achieving this ideal, but the internet is largely unindexed in this fashion.

To truly achieve the usefulness of information on which Bush bases the evolution of humanity, I believe that society must continue to use the internet to "set a direction and march collectively to the future" (Leiner 2003).  And the key to making associative indexing (likely through the formats of tags and metadata) possible on the enormous scale of the internet is by leveraging the same factors that have caused the success of internet technology so far:

  • common infrastructure,
  • free and open documentation,
  • formation of communities, and
  • careful commercialization (Leiner 2003).

Bush, V. (1945). As we may think. In A. E. Cawkell (Ed.), Evolution of an information society (pp. 165-178). London: Aslib. Retrieved from

Leiner, B. M., Cerf, V. G., Clark, D. D., Kahn, R. E., Kleinrock, L., Lynch, D. C., Postel, J., Roberts, L. G., & Wolff, S. (2003). A brief history of the Internet. Retrieved from