The real heart of the matter of selection, however, goes deeper
than a lag in the adoption of mechanisms by libraries, or a lack of development
of devices for their use. Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely
caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing. When data of any sort
are placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and
information is found (when it is) by tracing it down from subclass to
subclass. It can be in only one place, unless duplicates are used; one
has to have rules as to which path will locate it, and the rules are cumbersome.
Having found one item, moreover, one has to emerge from the system and
re-enter on a new path.
The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With
one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested
by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web
of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics,
of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade,
items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of
action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring
beyond all else in nature.
Vannevar Bush, ‘As we may think’, 1945