The memex is the name of the hypothetical proto-hypertext system that Vannevar Bush described in his 1945 The Atlantic Monthly article “As We May Think”. Bush envisioned the memex as a device in which individuals would compress and store all of their books, records, and communications, “mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility”. The memex would provide an “enlarged intimate supplement to one’s memory”.
another similar one, also analog, but more methodological:
A zettelkasten consists of many individual notes with ideas and other short pieces of information that are taken down as they occur or are acquired. The notes are numbered hierarchically, so that new notes may be inserted at the appropriate place, and contain metadata to allow the note-taker to associate notes with each other. For example, notes may contain tags that describe key aspects of the note, and they may reference other notes. The numbering, metadata, format and structure of the notes is subject to variation depending on the specific method employed.
interestingly there are also similar physical concepts:
Commonplace books (or commonplaces) are a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They have been kept from antiquity, and were kept particularly during the Renaissance and in the nineteenth century. Such books are essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces are used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts. Each one is unique to its creator’s particular interests but they almost always include passages found in other texts, sometimes accompanied by the compiler’s responses. They became significant in Early Modern Europe.
another way of talking about the same concept that i have seen in various places on the web are the idea of a digital garden. where rather than a museum, a gallery, a portfolio, or a journal - it’s a place where you can tend to ideas to watch them grow, and share with other’s if they want to visit. i like the idea more generally, as it seems like it strikes a really reasonable balance between the external and internal worlds we live in. futher more, the concept of coming back to the same idea (i.e. page, theory, writing, notes, etc) and adding to that at a later date is also antithetical to the fast consumption we’re used to online. the same essay doesn’t have to stay the same. it’s ok to update things - or to rip things out when space is needed for other things to grow.
there are many tools that already exist that help people try to organize their thoughts in similar ways - but there is also value in figuring it out for yourself. similarly, there are ton of options out there for static site generators. at least for me, i see value in often doing something for yourself, even if there is an easier way. like gardening, or riding your bike maybe.
this iteration is my first attempt at sharing ideas in this manner. i spent a lot of time thinking about how i could plan for longevity while also keeping the writing process simple. in the merveilles community, writing your own static site generator is something of a rite of passage. and while it is fun to some, and can be a fun little challenge, it represents a deeper idea about building tools that work exactly in the way the user needs them to work. i considered using a variety of different tools to do this, but none exactly met my need. in the end, it made more sense to write my own.
for me, the requirements were:
- plain text is the primary (on disk format)
- minimal markup outside of markdown
- easily templated
- customizable, going forward, if i want things to change
the plain text is the most important. if later, i want to try to use some other system, i don’t have to import or export any files out of different formats. the content itself is in a pretty raw form. you can see the source code of this memex on sourcehut.
the above outlines what a memex is, and how this one is created. however, why would one want to do this? i think the idea of a memex, zettelkasten, commonplace, digital garden is relaxing - in contrast with so much of the rest of my interactions with other’s online. it feels like a journal, but also a blog. it feels like a portfolio, but also a scratchpad. it also is under your control. if you want to change your mind about something, you can just update whatever you want. at the end of the day, making a memex feels more like learning, and documenting your ideas, in public.
as an anarchist, there is a lot of the above that makes sense in particular: write at your own pace, in your own way, to create something unique to your own needs. if your memex doesn’t do something you want it to, the sky’s your limit - you can change whatever it is you want. it might take a little more effort, but like consensus decision making, or making bread from scratch, the end result is worth it. i’ve been very influenced by other people’s gardens and zettlekastens: