Tag Archives: memex

The Links Inside Our Minds

The memex has been making me think.

Google’s PageRank is based on the notion that links between documents convey information about authority, importance, and meaning, even when the target document doesn’t explicitly contain the terms being searched for.

But the most important links in the world are not HREFs put between documents by writers, but by readers. They are links made in the mind.

Quoting Vannevar Bush again:

The human mind … operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain.

During a single day, we make hundreds of such connections in our minds as we read: books, web pages, emails, magazines. An article in the New Yorker makes me think about a Ted Chiang story. A web page on the history of Roman coinage makes me think about the complexities of “obverse” vs. “converse” in logic and rhetoric, discussed in a post on a blawg. A newspaper article on the history of qipao makes me think about a novel set in Hong Kong in the 1940s. I’d think that the vast majority of links between all kinds of content (text, images, video, sound) are like these, made by readers, not hyperlinks.

These connections are not preserved in any permanent form, and most of them would be forgotten quickly afterwards. But they are the stuff creativity is made of. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a way of capturing them, such that we can sift through them later, connect other snippets to them, add to the trail of associations that blaze like lightning over the vast dark plains of our daily existence. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Google, instead of searching merely through links some writer explicitly coded onto a web page, could make use of these links made by the associative mind of the reader as well? When I search for “conversely” or “coins,” it would bring up that blawg post and the page on Roman coins and all the other things I’ve connected to them. Maybe it’s something like a universal tagging scheme, but reader-centric.

Seems like Google ought to look into this.