The New Media Seminar

21 02 2013

Every so often, one reaches a point where you can step forward into the unknown or stay within the safety of the familiar. Over the past year, I have developed my blog to record information about the activities undertaken by my colleagues, students, and myself. Thus, the blog is a compendium of interesting information, but it does not contain my voice or thoughts. As an experiment (for me), over the next couple of months this will change.

This semester, I am taking part in a VT FDI (Faculty Development Institute) seminar on New Media. The seminar asks participants (faculty and staff) to blog about the readings, our group discussions, or the connections between the two. The idea is to adopt a “first-thought-best-thought” approach, in the words of our intellectual guide, Gardner Campbell.

Having missed the first session due to a commitment in the UK, I joined the seminar for a discussion of Vannevar Bush’s classic 1945 article “As We May Think.” Rather than reflect upon the content of our conversation here (which I will leave for a future post), I wanted to reminisce a little.

Vannevar Bush was a faculty member at MIT from 1919 to 1938, and became the Dean of Engineering in 1932. During our group discussion about the life of Vannevar Bush, I started to wonder what he would think about MIT’s Engineering Systems Division (ESD). During the six years I spent at MIT (from 2000 to 2006), I was able to witness the emergence of ESD through the lens of a master’s student and then as a doctoral candidate. Thanks to MIT’s open courseware, I can share an example of ESD’s doctoral seminar, in which students explore “the core theory and contextual applications of the emerging field of Engineering Systems.” Our group discussion about Vannevar Bush’s 1945 vision of the future sent me back to the 2003 version of the ESD doctoral seminar. The creation of a new field of study requires the generation, accumulation, structuring, and communication of knowledge, which links me back to Vannevar Bush’s article in which he describes the memex – a memory augmentation device (see the video below). In the context of ESD, one could envision a memex approach that enables the engineer/scientist to combine and store information about complex socio-technical systems in new and creative ways, freeing the mind to further explore more and more complex interrelationships that may help solve the critical contemporary problems facing society. In 2011, ESD celebrated its first 100 doctoral alumni, a milestone that I would hope Vannevar Bush would celebrate.

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