Bush + Greenberg + Berners-Lee

All 3 of these articles (As We May Think, Modernist Painting and Long Live the Web), pose interesting questions about the intersection of art and science. Or art and science as poles, the conflict between (which could be a way of describing the internet). All 3 articles, with some urgency, ask and propose ideas about how to move forward.

Bush examines current technology as of 1945 and its capabilities in service of imagining new and improved technologies. The goal of these technologies is to provide a wider record of human knowledge and an easier and faster way to access it.

Berners-Lee seems to be asking for the same thing in many ways, a free and open web, specifically when he writes about linked data. He imagines databases, records, so full of information, so easily accessible that it becomes a way to “cure diseases, foster business value and govern our world more effectively” (Berners-Lee, 85). My immediate question is about privacy and he does address this though without idea of solution.

Of course, it is thrilling to hear the 1945 imaginings of a walnut-sized camera with a “lens of universal focus”, automatic exposure, “full color” and “film… for a hundred exposures” (Bush, 7). It’s interesting to think in this moment in time, what was possible in that perspective to imagine, and what wasn’t. For example, extensions or enhancements of the already familiar mechanics were imaginable but an entirely different set of mechanics (ie digital photography) was not.

I was also struck by the way Bush wrote about association: “With one item in 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” (Bush, 22). Obviously there is an easy connection made to the way the internet functions as well as the way we have come to experience it as it has become woven more deeply into our lives. Yet there is also something about this that makes it human, reminds us that we are in control of it and it is not objective.

Greenberg’s piece was an interesting compliment to the Bush and Berners-Lee readings. It provides a way of thinking, self-criticism as a necessary and inherent part of the evolution of art. Substitute science for art, or technology, or the internet. What came before does not disappear. It is not “a break from the past. It may mean a devolution, an unraveling, of tradition, but it also means its further evolution” (Greenberg, 6). Again, there are ways that we can create better, more equitably, based on where we have come from. Greenberg, like Bush, reminds of us our humanity in this when he writes, “the limiting conditions of art are altogether human conditions” (Greenberg, 6).