Monday, August 15, 2011

[EQ] The politics of data

The politics of data

Jack Stilgoe, Business School, University of Exeter, UK

The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood

James Gleick Fourth Estate, 2011

The Lancet, Volume 378, Issue 9791, Page 559, 13 August 2011


“…..We can't touch it, but it is the innovation that defines our society in the way that bronze, iron, agriculture, and steam engines have defined past generations. Our age is an information age. But it is an age younger than many of us, and arguably its most powerful corporation (Google) is younger than many of our children. James Gleick, the pre-eminent science writer of the information age, has produced a dense and magnificent story of humanity's rapidly changing relationship with information. But, perhaps inevitably for a book about everything, it provides more questions than answers.


Gleick starts his story in 1948, the year that information was invented. Or rather the year that information took on a life of its own. The rest is context. In The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, Gleick retells history as an attempt to acquire, exchange, and sort out growing quantities of information. Mankind, according to Marshall McLuhan, has progressed from hunter-gather to information gatherer. The creation of language, logic, alphabets, printing presses, the internet, and Wikipedia have allowed people to transcend their immediate experiences, systematically study phenomena, and share their knowledge with others. But the vast bulk of this history has been messy, slow, and analogue.


In 1948, two things were invented that would, when combined, enable Google's dream to “organise the world's information”. Bits (the atoms of information) and transistors (building blocks for silicon chips) would enable all sorts of information to be digitally represented. The latter was the creation of William Shockley at Bell Labs, winning him a Nobel Prize. The former was the brainchild of Claude Shannon, the book's central character…..”




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