catacomber (catacomber) wrote,

Ceruzzi, Harvey, and Bush

Today’s reading in Ceruzzi’s History of Modern Computing serves as an interesting segue away from Harvey and more directly into the issue of technological issue surrounding the purported condition of postmodernity. The book, told in perhaps too small a nutshell, is so far the rise first of the physical computer itself, with particular regards to the UNIVAC, EDVAC, and IBM’s first “main frame” computers in the sixties. It is easy to relegate the times which impacted these inventions as Modern, as well as to relegate the thinking behind the major industrial events as Modernist and particularly Fordist.
Not only are we seeing the movement of products undergo an exponential increase in volume via mass production, we are seeing the ideas and calculations which will promote and sustain this movement grow at an equally exponential rate. Enter the need for a computing machine, even though it was something that was originally intended only to be what we would now call a scientific calculator: an algebra and calculus machine. It was a pusher of numbers, not of ‘ideas’ in the loftier sense that we now have of these extensions of memory.
What makes all this very interesting is the way that the growth of the computer industry is going to emulate and facilitate dynamics of Harvey’s historical demography not only through the sweeping strokes of a modern world transformed into a postmodern world, but we see Ceruzzi actually mapping 1968 as the year in which software broke(Ceruzzu, 108), unwittingly centered within Harvey’s map of the western demise through flexible accumulation transitioning from 1965-73 (Harvey, 141)
Software becomes the vehicle of flexible accumulation. It is also a profound instance of vertical marketing, one of Harvey’s PoMo indexes.
But I also want to offer a tie, again in broad strokes, of these two works in connection with Vannevar Bush’s amazing speculative essay. Here’s a picture:

damn, this shitty blog won't let me post a picture.

well, here's where I stole it from:

(Totally aside: Bush recreated Babbage's Difference Engine, a calculation machine totally unlike electro-circuit computers. His student, Claude Shannon, helped invent Boolean Circuitry, which would instantly make Bush's machine useless and obsolete. Bush was defeated (in a purely market-based sense)by the very machines he prophecied.
Claude Shannon is hilarious. In an Omni magazine article in 1987, he said "I visualize a time when people are to robots what dogs are to humans. And I'm rooting for the machines." Not only do I agree, but I think that time is now. We do not make machines, we are made by them. More later.)

I just wanted to show you a Life magazine illustration for the Memex.
What I really want to focus on is the inevitability of all of this. Bush’s essay is profoundly accurate on a number of levels. It is no great stretch to say that what he is describing is the desktop computer and the internet, far in advance of their physical realization (not to mention forehead cameras). While what he describes is to some a nearly supernatural prophecy, it also smacks of something bound to happen, seemingly hard-wired into the modern landscape. What if I said that what Bush is describing is really just Fordism of the mind, or Fordism of memory?
Another important aspect of Bush’s essay is how well it serves as grounds for a sound refutation of Harvey’s disdain of postmodernity, an attitude rooted in an unfounded mistrust of the flexibly accumulated world’s supposed lack of reality-based value systems. The bread we supposedly don’t have (see previous entry) is ideas and memory; two very real substances. Bush simply projects a more or less Fordist economy of memory storage and use, which utilizes association as its intracontinental highway system (an abstracted model of what we call search engines).
I want to present this as a further refutation of ideas that the internet is “nowhere”. Simply untrue. It is physical, and it is in part right here, the only thing that has happened is that the notion of physicality itself, including within it notions of “physical space”, has been challenged.
I am a person who believes that there may have been a “Postmodern turn”, but that moniker is useful only in a very limited sense. For the most part, current life is business as usual, except, instead of pushing mud up a hill, or carts around a big warehouse, we are pushing physical projections of memory around within a space we don’t have the same kind of old-school contact with. Just keep surfing, computerheads, you’re serving the old machine just fine. Good job learning all those programs at an early age, your assimilation is nearly complete.
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