NOTES & THEORIES: The Microwave Oven Can Reheat Anything - except the Truth
Bayley, Stephen, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
Americans always do the right thing... but only after exhausting all the other possibilities. Among the other possibilities currently being entertained are a gross proletarianisation of global culture and cruel, insolent foreign policies that would bring Palmerston's Foreign Office out in hives. But, at least for me, there is that central feature of American civilization that is always redeeming: the resourcefulness and ingenuity and inventiveness that create superlative technology with a transcendent beauty. A vast continent with virtually limitless resources of people all in search of the next dollar has driven applied science so far up a helix of creativity that no one can catch up. When I worked in the bowels of London's Victoria & Albert Museum, I had a subscription to Aviation Week and Space Technology, the only person who has ever (I like to think) brought those two institutions together. At about the same time, Nasa flew a specially modified 747 through London, low above the Thames with a Space Shuttle piggy-back. Impossible, really, to imagine anything more awe inspiring.
An avatar of this swaggering technocracy was Vannevar Bush (1890- 1974), one of the founders of The American Appliance Company in 1922, an early example (as Xerox and Apple were later) of a progressive technology business spun out of a university research department, in this case Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Its first product was a component that modulated power supply in radios. They branded this gaseous rectifier "Raytheon" (a sort of Greek for "light of the gods"), a name which three years later they actually chose for the company itself. Raytheon was dedicated to high technology, but in full conformity with the postulates of The American Dream, usually found a commercial application. In 1945 a Raytheon engineer realised that the magnetron tubes used in primitive radar could be used to cook food, thus military research gave us the microwave oven.
Vannevar Bush was himself an American original, an architect of the 20th century. His research established the principles of the first analogue computers' he became chairman of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (Nasa's predecessor) in 1939 and his efforts to co-ordinate science and politics led to him being described as the second most important man in the US Second World War effort. In July 1945 Bush published an article in Atlantic Monthly, on how multiplying knowledge could have unimagined benefits to civilization. He wrote: "Consider a future desk for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name... 'memex' will do. It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily a piece of furniture ... on the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers". He was wrong about the name "memex" and about the buttons and levers, but in all essentials he predicted the worldwide web.
"Wholly new forms of encyclopaedia will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails"- it was a brilliant insight, but less positively …
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Publication information: Article title: NOTES & THEORIES: The Microwave Oven Can Reheat Anything - except the Truth. Contributors: Bayley, Stephen - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent on Sunday (London, England). Publication date: May 14, 2006. Page number: 46. © 2009 The Independent on Sunday. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.