Some people are simply better than the rest of us. Vannevar Bush was one of those people. Admittedly, he started out with an unfair advantage. His parents could have gone with any number of humdrum Victorian names—they christened him Vannevar instead. We're pretty sure that's not even a name, which means he was the first Vannevar in human history and clearly destined for greatness. (Watch your back Preserved Fish, your legacy is up for grabs).
Like most impressive people, Vannevar Bush is famous in lots of different circles for lots of different things. After studying engineering at Tufts, he did seminal work on analog computing at MIT in the 1920s. When World War II broke out, President Roosevelt put him in charge of the Manhattan Project, where he oversaw the work of 6,000 civilian scientists designing new weapons. Running the Manhattan Project may not be the best thing to have on your CV—but it's worth noting that Vannevar led a failed effort to halt testing of the hydrogen bomb while he was there. Long story short: He was an engineering genius and early computer pioneer who helped spawn the military-industrial complex but felt pretty bad about it.
In July 1945, Vannevar published an Atlantic Monthly article that helped trigger the digital revolution. Titled "As We May Think," the pioneering essay included a description of a clunky, futuristic monster desk he dubbed the "memex." The article can get a little technical, but it's worth wading through—because things get crazy. Vannevar predicts that humans will be able to use such a device "to instantly bring files and material on any subject to the operator's fingertips." Then he describes link-based web browsing:
"All this is conventional, except for the projection forward of present-day mechanisms and gadgetry. It affords an immediate step, however, to associative indexing, the basic idea of which is a provision whereby any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another. This is the essential feature of the memex. The process of tying two items together is the important thing."
As far as we know, the "memex" was never produced. Does anyone know where we can find one on the black market? If so, please reach out.