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The Information A History A Theory A Flood - Book Review

Award-winning author James Glieck, who wrote "Chaos" and "Genius," has the depressingly encouraging answer to this waterfall of information that overtakes us by the hours as gigaflops and teraflops literally pour fourth from the disk farms of the world and onto the Internet burying us ever more deeply in even more information - the Genie is out of the bottle and it won't go away.

Was it ever thus or did information just magically appear one day and need some sort of handling, rearranging, reinterpreting or reinventing? The answer is simple: information has been with us since the beginning, at first passed from shaman to son, who learned not only the "tribe's" story, but any new experiences that were picked up along the way that were bound to the story for the next generation. This went on for thousands of years and it was easy because things seldom strayed from the "truths" known. With the invention of illumination, the West was able to store its information as it was written - never changing as the keeper of information was happy with it remaining as it was. The invention of moveable type - actually a product of Chinese innovation 4,000 years ago - followed quickly surrounded us with more information and opinion. There was not more "keeper of the flame," as it were.

That invention alone let the Genie out of the bottle, never to return, although the flood of information turned from a trickle into a torrent nearly overnight (in historical terms) as the printing press churned out information that was once restricted to an elite. Soon, as they saying goes, the "elite was us" as information became more and more a director of our lives.

Soon information for its own sake was the norm as the information of the ages was worked on by the new masters to define everything from apples falling on our head (magnetism) to the ending of the "flat earth" theory to the ending of the earth-centric view of things. While Glieck doesn't specifically mention studies the contributions of Galileo, Copernicus, Humanism and others, they are there tacitly in the background as we run into the age of the machine and the literal deluge of information that it brought.

Yet, while never mentioning the "scribes" or tinkerers of the information age, directly, he does mention the greats who were successful in beginning to organize some of this information such as Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first "computer," a large textile machine that changed manufacturing with punched brass cards that told the machine how to reconfigure itself.

There's the Lady Ada Byron, by some accounts the first computer programmer, for whom Ada is named and its spreads rapidly from there as our historical narrative turns to the thinkers of the Information Age, Turing, Hawking and others as the Information Age begins to cascade toward the first real computer ENIAC by RCA in 1948 (where coveys of white-smocked technicians raced up and down aisles that housed rack-after-rack of heat-sensitive triode tubes to replace tubes that constantly failed so that computations could continue - at the time, the world's estimate for computers was eight or 10 maximum).

Now, a new meaning could be ascribed the old saw: "Apres moi le deluge" as the floodgates of the information age open, constantly surrounding us with information and changing information and new additions to information to the Internet and Web and the world of "Social Computing" with its "Facebook," nameless "Tweeting," Instant Messaging, Texting and more and more.

At one time it literally took eons for information to change to now when eons worth of information changes in seconds, constantly surrounding us with a reality that has changed the way we think and act. We are as much prisoners of this onrush of information as its participants and creators. Glieck's seminal work points this out.

By: Roberto Sedycias