Vanevar Bush

In thinking about Bush’s articles ad its internal contradictions, I remember something Susan Sontag said about 1950’s popular movies and what they reflect about post WWII culture:

“We live under continual threat of two equally fearful, but seemingly opposed, destinies: unremitting banality and inconceivable terror.”

Now, admittedly, the enormous potential for previously and literally unimaginable developments in technology are the essay’s main subjects, and the “memex” and Bush’s imagination of “gossamer” webs of connected and retrieved knowledge are astonishing; but in the writing also lurks the fear of what has been unleashed. The very close up experience of Hiroshima ad Nagasaki, the Nazi camps and their killing machines on one hand, and the need of the “advanced arithmetical machines to “to take data and instructions from a room full of girls armed with simple keyboard punches” on the other.

The girls, the clerks, the punch cards — they all feed the machine with “enormous appetites.” The unimaginable magnitude, the size and quantity of the knowledge storage, and retrieval requires that the devices themselves shrink. Such profound contradictions!

And Bush alludes to Ariadne’s slender thread that lead Theseus through the maze to kill the minataur and find his way out and rescue Phaedre (I think this is how it goes).  Bush talks about advances in “new and powerful instrumentalities such as “thermiotic tubes that are capable of controlling potent forces under the guidance of less power than a mosquito uses to vibrate its wings.” Several times in the essay Bush uses tropes suggesting the delicate and insubstantial nature of what technology is becoming, in spite of its destructive power. “As We May Think” has a romance about the beauty and seductive quality of technology. It requires powerful imagination and attending metaphors to think in these terms.

There is a lot to think about here. I wonder how Thomas Kuhn would read next to this, and if there has been a paradigm shift of the kind Bush calls for?