Memex is a theoretical proto-hypertext device concept introduced by Vannevar Bush in his 1945 article “As We May Think.” It’s envisioned as a mechanical desk-like device to store, retrieve, and link vast amounts of information through a system of associative trails. The Memex concept inspired the development of early hypertext systems and personal computers, laying the foundation for the modern World Wide Web.

Key Takeaways

  1. Memex is a proto-hypertext system, conceptualized by Vannevar Bush in 1945, designed to organize and access a user’s personal reading materials, notes, and other information.
  2. The term “Memex” is derived from “memory extender,” as it aimed to enhance the way individuals store, retrieve, and interact with their amassed knowledge, utilizing associative indexing and linking for easier navigation.
  3. Although Memex was never physically built, its concept has significantly influenced the development of the World Wide Web, personal computers, and modern search engines, pushing forward the evolution of information storage and retrieval technologies.


The term Memex, coined by Vannevar Bush in his 1945 article “As We May Think,” is important because it represents a groundbreaking concept that laid the foundation for the development of information storage, retrieval, and organization systems, including the internet and hypertext.

Memex was envisioned as a personal, mechanized device that would enable users to store, sort, and access vast amounts of information easily and efficiently.

It was designed to mimic human associative memory, allowing the user to create links and relationships between various pieces of information.

By inspiring the creation of complex and searchable databases and promoting enhanced connectivity of knowledge, the Memex concept significantly influenced the evolution of technology, information science, and the way individuals interact with information in the modern digital age.


The Memex is a visionary concept that aims to revolutionize the way individuals store, access, and navigate through the vast volumes of information they encounter throughout their lives. The purpose of this device is to mimic the human brain’s associative memory and create a comprehensive and interconnected database of an individual’s accumulated knowledge, experiences, and thoughts.

It serves as an external aid for our memory and cognitive processes, essentially augmenting and extending the natural capabilities of the human mind. The Memex is utilized as a powerful tool to enhance intellectual productivity and the pursuit of knowledge.

It fosters efficient information retrieval, allowing users to easily navigate through the intricate web of relationships and connections between diverse topics, ideas, and concepts. Moreover, the Memex enables users to share their insights, annotations, and discoveries with others, thus fostering collaboration and stimulating the growth of collective intelligence.

By harnessing the full potential of the Memex, individuals can effectively tackle numerous challenges and tasks, ranging from academic research to creative problem-solving and decision-making processes.

Examples of Memex

“Memex” is a term coined by Vannevar Bush in his 1945 essay “As We May Think”, describing a theoretical proto-hypertext, mechanical device for storing, indexing, and retrieving vast amounts of information. While the original Memex was never built, several technologies developed later can be suggested as real-world examples inspired by Bush’s concept.

Personal Computers: The Memex concept involves a device that can store extensive information and easily access any piece of data when needed. Personal computers, with their ability to store digital files and provide search functionality, embody many aspects of Bush’s Memex concept. Users can work with various types of documents, images, and other media simultaneously, making connections between different pieces of information, just like Memex intended.

The Internet and World Wide Web: The connectivity and accessibility provided by the Internet, coupled with the development of the World Wide Web as an information retrieval system, is remarkably similar to the Memex’s vision for easily storing, retrieving, and associating information. The Internet allows users to navigate between different resources using hyperlinks, effectively creating “trails” between related materials, reminiscent of Memex’s proposed ability to create associative links between related concepts.

Evernote: As a popular note-taking and organization app, Evernote allows users to create, organize, and store a wide variety of information in a structured manner, alongside the ability to tag and search notes. This mirrors key aspects of the Memex, particularly its emphasis on personal organization and information retrieval. Additionally, Evernote facilitates sharing and collaboration between users, which also embodies some of Bush’s original vision for a networked Memex system.Though no single existing technology fully replicates Bush’s Memex, these examples demonstrate its foundational influence on modern systems that deal with extensive information storage, organization, and retrieval.

Memex FAQ

What is Memex?

Memex is a hypothetical device, originally proposed by Vannevar Bush in 1945, which was designed to aid in the storage, organization, and retrieval of information for individuals. Its main purpose is to help users to navigate and access large amounts of information more efficiently.

How does Memex work?

Memex works by storing and organizing information in a way that mimics human associative memory. This means that it can find and display related content based on the associations the user has between different pieces of information. This is achieved through the use of links, called “trails,” which allow the user to navigate through related information easily.

What was the inspiration behind Memex?

The inspiration behind Memex came from Vannevar Bush’s concern about the growing amount of information and the challenges it posed for both organizing and accessing that information. He believed that a device like Memex could help manage this information overload by leveraging the human brain’s associative memory capabilities for information retrieval.

What impact did Memex have on modern technology?

While the Memex itself was never built, its concept significantly influenced the development of modern computing, information science, and the internet. Memex’s idea of using associative trails has evolved into the concept of hyperlinks, which are the basis of the World Wide Web. Additionally, personal computers, search engines, and knowledge management systems can trace their roots back to the principles laid out by the Memex.

Did Vannevar Bush invent the internet with Memex?

No, Vannevar Bush didn’t invent the internet with Memex, as it was merely a hypothetical concept at the time. However, the ideas behind Memex have had a significant impact on the development of the internet and the World Wide Web. Memex’s principles of using trails to connect related information have evolved into what we know today as hyperlinks.

Related Technology Terms

  • Associative Indexing
  • Vannevar Bush
  • Hyperlinks
  • Personal Knowledge Base
  • Augmented Memory

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