Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

The history of information can be a broad topic. Even narrowing it down to "modern" advances in uses of information still leads a lot to cover. This book focuses on the technology and theory that have changed the way that we process process and transfer information. Speech enabled more verbose communication to be shared among people. Different aspects of the language were used to communicate stories over time. Epics like the Iliad relied on a number of verbal clues to allow the bards to relate the tale.

Then came the revolution of writing. This enabled greater spreading of language across time and space. It also lead to a decrease in the abilities of the oral story-tellers. In the process, it also changed the way that we think about the world. Different means were used to record speech, including pictographs, syllabaries and alphabets.

The telegraph was one of the first modern technological advancements that enabled widespread communication. However, this in essence simply mirrored African drummers that were able to "talk" with their drums over great distances. Telegraphs required translation of speech into a digital code of "dots, dashes, short pauses and long pauses". Associated with this codes were different additional codes to "encrypt" and "compress" the information via codebooks or other shorthand phrases.

The telephone started to allow communication with analog signals. This set off a revolution where everybody could use the long-distance communicator without an intermediary. From there, the information revolution took off into high gear and never really stopped, with computers, internet and more enabling rapid communication.

This book covers all the communication and the theory behind it. Information theory, mathematics, biology, computer science and more are all covered. It even "jumps the shark" to talk about "jumping the shark". With a topic as broad as "information" it is easy to meander into all sorts of different areas from DNA to the Enigma machine. A little more focus would have been helpful. At times it can get awfully boring as the author rambles on about some topic. Then it can turn around an start to cover something interesting.

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