Booting Up the Time Machine: A Victorian Genius, Cyberpunk and the Memex

The internet is the sum of many incongruent parts. In order to understand where we are today, technologically and content wise, why don’t we take a minute to boot up the time machine (that old Pegasus winged DeLorean in your garage will work too) and take a look back at the innovations, thoughts and Eureka moments that have brought us to this Brave New World.

The Victorian Era

Charles Babbage (1791-1871) was a mathematician, philosopher and mechanical engineer. Modern techies and sci-fi aficionados have long credited Babbage as being the inventor of the first mechanical computer, and over time history has also come to recognize him as the “father of computing.” Charles Babbage’s iconic status rests on two inventions: The Difference Engine (1821) and the Analytical Engine (1837). The Difference Engine was created to compute mathematical tables, and it’s often considered to be the first automatic calculator. The Analytical Engine, as a working prototype, never came to fruition, but the blueprint (it was to be programmed using a series of punch cards) was more complicated than the Difference Engine and similar to the workings of a modern computer.

Flash Forward to 1982

Big hair. Greed is Good. Duran Duran…Cyberspace? That’s right. In 1982, William Gibson, a relatively unknown Speculative Fiction writer, coined the term Cyberspace in his short story “Burning Chrome,” which was first published in Omni magazine. William Gibson’s work, which was soon to be referred to as cyberpunk, was a sort of postmodern science fiction that blended the world of high-tech gadgetry with a grimy, Sex Pistols sensibility.

However, here’s the fun part. Out of this new genre came the sci-fi sub-genre steampunk, which was a modern interpretation of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, featuring a wide-range of retro futuristic inventions and Victorian era gadgetry, not unlike the computing machines that Charles Babbage created and envisioned. The World Wide Web Indeed.

& Back to 1945

Long before blogging, tweeting and ghostwriter services, Vannevar Busch, an American Engineer and inventor, was already thinking about content and content curation in an age of technological advancement and information overload. Bare in mind, however, that Vannevar Busch was no ordinary American engineer; he headed the United States Office of Scientific Research and Development, worked as an administrator on the Manhattan Project, founded Raytheon, and is known for his work with analog computers. Does he have visionary status? You better believe it.

In 1945, Bush wrote an essay published in the Atlantic Monthly called “As We May Think.” In the essay, he focuses on the importance of organizing information. He envisions a device called a memex (a word he coined which is a fusion of memory and index), where people can store things like books, pictures and film reels. In other words, the memex sounds a lot like a personal hard drive. However, Bush’s vision for the future didn’t end there. The personal library would become part of a giant Universal Library, complete with hyperlinks and metadata.

A revolutionary concept, indeed.

Damon H is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.


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