The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick

I just finished reading James Gleick’s The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, and can report that it is an excellent read and great introduction to the history of information and the ways humans have organized, thought about, and tried to manage information. Gleick covers a wide array of material, beginning with writing and the alphabet (what he called the “founding technology of information,” p. 24) and taking readers through Charles Babbage, physics, mathematics, the Internet, and concludes with thoughts on the meaning of information and the conclusion that “forgetting takes work” (p. 362). An excellent book given my research interests, but a good read for anybody who does the history and philosophy of computing, digital humanities, or the history of technology.

He concludes thinking about meaning. Information theory, he says, ignores the meaning of information – information means nothing unless it means something to someone. For Gleick that does not come in the form of Google’s tools or hypertext or abundance of data. Rather, meaning comes from human choice “selecting the genuine takes work.”

I have some more thoughts on this that I’m writing up for my digital humanities seminar, and will post that here once it is finished. Namely, I am thinking about the interplay between information and knowledge, what digital humanities offers us in the way of moving information towards knowledge, and the limits we currently face in that endeavor.

October 11, 2011 @jaheppler