The memex has been hailed as an inspiration by many innovators since it was first described in 1945. Allowing users to combine and annotate information from diverse sources stored in microfilm and to create links between related items, the memex is said to predict today's information devices. In this way, the memex is presented as a cultural imperative, yet few of the innovators who invoke the memex account for the introspective thinking that the memex was supposed to provide. Even those who did respect the memex's disruptive potential were unable to divert the direction of innovation because their ideal users conflicted with existing paradigms. The repeated misunderstanding of the memex—which this article observes in early information science, commercial versions of hypertext, and the Web—is an important warning about the use of simplistic historical arguments to undergird innovation.


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pp. 480-511
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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