Alex Wright

The Secret History of Hypertext

May 22, 2014

The Atlantic just published my essay on "The Secret History of Hypertext," an exploration of early European precursors to the Web in the era before Vannevar Bush famously proposed the Memex in 1945.

This article draws on material from my book, but I wanted to write an original piece that focused squarely on Bush's legacy, given his lasting influence over the trajectory of post-WWII computing. And the Atlantic seemed like the ideal place to do that, given their role in publishing Bush's iconic article "As We May Think." I'm grateful to the editors there for their willingness to take on a story that reconsiders the legacy of that historic article.

Bush's essay is a beautifully crafted piece of technological soothsaying. But, as I suggest here, its influence has obscured the contributions of pioneers like Paul Otlet and H.G. Wells, who were thinking along the same lines well before Bush, and who have been largely overlooked in the traditional Anglo-American version of computing history.

Here's the full article.

Previously: Cataloging the World

Now available for pre-order:

Cataloging the World:
Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age

by Alex Wright

A “shrewd, brisk biography.”
—Kirkus Reviews     

Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages

Mastering Information Through the Ages

by Alex Wright

“A penetrating and highly entertaining meditation on the information age and its historical roots.”
—Los Angeles Times