Message minus meaning

The Daily Beast is running my review of James Gleick’s fascinating new book The Information. Here’s how it (the review, not the book) starts:

At a technology conference last year, Google’s outgoing CEO Eric Schmidt tried to put our current “information explosion” into historical perspective. Today, he said, we create as much information in 48 hours—five billion gigabytes worth—as was created “between the birth of the world and 2003.” It’s an astonishing comparison, and it seems to illuminate something important about the times we live in. But the harder you look at Schmidt’s numbers, the fuzzier they become. What does it mean to create information? When we measure information, what exactly are we measuring? What the heck is “information,” anyway?

None of those questions, it turns out, is easy to answer. Wikipedia isn’t much help. “As a concept,” it tells us, “information has many meanings,” which are “closely related to notions of constraint, communication, control, data, form, instruction, knowledge, meaning, mental stimulus, pattern, perception, and representation.” It might have been simpler to list the notions that information isn’t related to. Dictionaries are a little clearer. They suggest that information is more or less synonymous with knowledge. But that definition no longer seems sufficient. What does a gigabyte of knowledge look like? The fact is, although we live in an information age, we don’t really know what information even means.

Into the breach steps the gifted science writer James Gleick. In his formidable new book, The Information, Gleick explains how we’ve progressed from seeing information as the expression of human thought and emotion to looking at it as a commodity that can be processed, like wheat or plutonium. …

Read on.

One thought on “Message minus meaning

  1. dougiedd

    “The entire universe may be nothing more than “a cosmic information-processing machine.”

    As if this is news to any reader of ” The Hitchhikers Guide”…

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