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[Comments] (1) Request Weblog: Memex and Memory: Way back when I invited people to tell me what weblog entries to write (this is a standing invitation, BTW). In addition to prying into my reading habits a la USA-PATRIOT Act, Evan asked:

The memex machine described by Vannevar Bush has inspired a number of projects along the lines of "record all my interactions with the world".

Is it a deep mistrust of one's subconscious that inspires someone to work on this sort of a project, a deeper desire to hold on to ephemeral things, or just a ramping up of the same knack that leads folks to keep 5+ years of e-mail history ("just in case..")?

Well, different people do this for different reasons. I can think of two really smart people who did or are doing this: R. Buckminster Fuller (source) and Ted Nelson (source). Fuller is the fox par excellence with hundreds of random ideas, and Nelson the hedgehog par excellence with the big idea of hypertext. Plus there are several more contemporary hedgehogs whose one big idea is recording all one's interactions with the world: Gordon Bell, Justin Kan, and random Media Lab dudes whose names I don't know. Somewhere in between is Lion Kimbro.

I bring this back up because today Sumana and I went with Evan and Stuart to a Bucky Fuller exhibit at the Whitney museum. I don't think the Whitney really knows how to deal with Fuller. I don't know how to deal with Fuller either, but if I were doing an exhibit on him I certainly wouldn't tiptoe around the fact that he was crazy.

I don't really say this pejoratively. Being smart and crazy is a great way to have transcendent ideas. It's not polite to say that people are crazy, and I guess I could see skimming over an artist's craziness, but it's rare that an artist literally tries to change society with specific works of art, and art isn't judged by the same standards as math or architecture. I would have liked to see a plaque besides some of Fuller's stuff with a guess as to what was crazy and what was a good idea.

I find it difficult even now to tell whether certain of Fuller's ideas are crazy. He was really bad at business, and apart from one-off jobs building domes for festivals, most of his commercial ventures failed. But his prefab home ideas, for instance, seem really good. The prefab homes we ended up getting were lame and difficult to build and not modular, because Fuller's business failed and after the war there was a period, which might be ending now, where we as a society weren't willing to try new things housing-wise. I don't have the ability to judge Fuller's architecture, and the Whitney didn't really try.

And to bring it back to Evan's initial query, I don't think the Dymaxion Chronofile can answer this kind of question. I don't think recording everything you do or everything that happens to you accomplishes anything beyond creating a useful historical document. The process of idea generation happens inside your head and isn't captured. The value of a successful idea has repercussions beyond your personal Dymaxion Chronofile. The value of an unsuccessful idea exists in the realm of the hypothetical, so the Chronofile won't help you much if you want to figure out what might have been. So I'm pretty skeptical of the whole thing.


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