The information : a history, a theory, a flood / James Gleick. – New York : Pantheon Books, 2011. – 526 p. : ill. ISBN 978-0-375-42372-7
Acclaimed science writer James Gleick presents an eye-opening vision of how our relationship to information has transformed the very nature of human consciousness. A fascinating intellectual journey through the history of communication and information, from the language of Africa’s talking drums to the invention of written alphabets; from the electronic transmission of code to the origins of information theory, into the new information age and the current deluge of news, tweets, images, and blogs. Along the way, Gleick profiles key innovators, including Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Samuel Morse, and Claude Shannon, and reveals how our understanding of information is transforming not only how we look at the world, but how we live.
Excerpts from the book, which I consider to be particularly poignant:
We can see now that information is what our world runs on: the blood and the fuel, the vital principle. It pervades the sciences from top to bottom, transforming every branch of knowledge. Information theory began as a bridge from mathematics to electrical engineering and from there to computing.
Every new medium transforms the nature of human thought. In the long run, history is the story of information becoming aware of itself.
With words we begin to leave traces behind us like breadcrumbs: memories in symbols for others to follow.
In the same way, the Greeks created categories (this word originally meaning “accusations” or “predictions”) as a means of classifying animal species, insects, and fishes. In turn, they could then classify ideas. This was a radical, alien mode of thought.
The written word – the persistent word – was a prerequisite for conscious thought as we understand it.
Among the many abilities gained by the written culture, not the least was the power of looking inward upon itself.
Information is uncertainty, surprise, difficulty, and entropy: […].
It sometimes seems as if curbing entropy is our quixotic purpose in this universe.
The gene is not an information-carrying macromolecule. The gene is the information.
Everything we care about lies somewhere in the middle, where pattern and randomness interlace.
Another way to speak of the anxiety is in terms of the gap between information and knowledge. A barrage of data so often fails to tell us what we need to know. Knowledge, in turn, does not guarantee enlightenment or wisdom.
It is not the amount of knowledge that makes a brain. It is not even the distribution of knowledge. it is the interconnectedness.
The library will endure; it is the universe. As for us, everything has not been written; we are not turning into phantoms. We walk the corridors, searching the shelves and rearranging them, looking for lines of meaning amid leagues of cacophony and incoherence, reading the history of the past and of the future, collecting our thoughts and collecting the thoughts of others, and every so often glimpsing mirrors, in which we may recognize creatures of the information.