Glut: Mastering Information Through The Ages / Edition 1

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What do primordial bacteria, medieval alchemists, and the World Wide Web have to do with each other? This fascinating exploration of how information systems emerge takes readers on a provocative journey through the history of the information age.

Today's "information explosion" may seem like an acutely modern phenomenon, but we are not the first generation—nor even the first species—to wrestle with the problem of information overload. Long before the advent of computers, human beings were collecting, storing, and organizing information: from Ice Age taxonomies to Sumerian archives, Greek libraries to Dark Age monasteries.

Today, we stand at a precipice, as our old systems struggle to cope with what designer Richard Saul Wurman called a "tsunami of data." With some historical perspective, however, we can begin to understand our predicament not just as the result of technological change, but as the latest chapter in an ancient story that we are only beginning to understand.

Spanning disciplines from evolutionary theory and cultural anthropology to the history of books, libraries, and computer science, writer and information architect Alex Wright weaves an intriguing narrative that connects such seemingly far-flung topics as insect colonies, Stone Age jewelry, medieval monasteries, Renaissance encyclopedias, early computer networks, and the World Wide Web. Finally, he pulls these threads together to reach a surprising conclusion, suggesting that the future of the information age may lie deep in our cultural past.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
To counter the "billions of pixels" that have been spent on the rise of the seemingly unique World Wide Web, journalist and information architect Wright delivers a fascinating tour of the many ways that humans have collected, organized and shared information for "more than 100,000 years" to show how the information age started long before microchips or movable type. A self-described "generalist" who displays an easy familiarity with evolutionary biology and cultural anthropology as well as computer science and technology, Wright explores the many and varied roots of the Web, including how the structure of family relationships from Greek times, among others, has exerted a profound influence on the shape and structure of human information systems. He discusses how "the violent history of libraries" is the best lesson in how hierarchical systems collapse and give rise to new systems, and how "the new technology of the book" introduced the notion of random access to information. And he focuses on the work of many now obscure information-gathering pioneers such as John Wilkins and his "Universal Categories" and Paul Otlet, the Internet's "forgotten forefather," who "anticipated many of the problems bedeviling the Web today." (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780309102384
  • Publisher: National Academies Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.64 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction     1
Networks and Hierarchies     5
Family Trees and the Tree of Life     22
The Ice Age Information Explosion     39
The Age of Alphabets     48
Illuminating the Dark Age     78
A Steam Engine of the Mind     99
The Astral Power Station     122
The Encyclopedic Revolution     143
The Moose That Roared     152
The Industrial Library     165
The Web That Wasn't     183
Memories of the Future     230
John Wilkins's Universal Categories     239
Thomas Jefferson's 1783 Catalog of Books     242
The Dewey Decimal System     245
S. R. Ranganathan's Colon Classification     247
Acknowledgments     251
Notes     253
Index     271
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