May 11, 2011


James Gleick, The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood (New York: Pantheon Books, 2011) ("Most of the biosphere cannot see the infosphere; it is invisible, a parallel universe humming with ghostly inhabitants. But they are not ghosts to us -- not anymore. We humans, alone among the earth's organic creatures, live in both worlds at once. It is as though, having long coexisted with the unseen, we have begun to develop the needed extrasensory perception. We are aware of the many species of information. We name their types sardonically, as though to reassure ourselves that we understand: urban myths and zombie lies. We keep them alive in air-conditioned server farms. But we cannot own them. When a jingle lingers in our ears, or a fad turns fashion upside down, or a hoax dominates the global chatter for months and vanishes as swiftly as it came, who is master and who is slave?" Id. at 323. "When new information technologies alter the existing landscape, they bring disruption: new channels and new dams rerouting the flow of irrigation and transport. The balance between creators and consumers is upset: writers and readers, speakers and listeners. Market forces are confused; information can seem too cheap and too expensive at the same time. The old ways of organizing knowledge no longer work. Who will search; who will filter? The disruption breeds hope mixed with fear. In the first days of radio Bertolt Brecht, hopeful, fearful, and quite obsessed, expressed this feeling aphoristically: 'A man who has something to say and finds no listeners is bad off. Even worse off are listeners who can't find anyone with something to say to them.' The calculus always changes. Ask bloggers and tweeters: Which is worse, too many mouths or too many ears?" Id. at 411-412. Food for thought? By the way, if you want to get a sense of just how time has compacted, read James Gleick, What Just Happened: A Chronicle From the Information Frontier(New York: Pantheon, 2002). Many of the events he described took place less than a dozen years ago. In other word, less than a generation ago. Yet, those events (and related concerns) seem like ancient history. Technology has gotten better, more efficient, smaller, even less expensive, though most of us have three or four times as many gadgets than we did way back then. Yet, improvement in technology does not equate to improvement in the quality of our lives. On that score, things have gotten a lot worse since the we have entered the twenty-first century. Yikes!).