Glut: Mastering Information through the Ages / Edition 1

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The "information explosion" may seem like an acutely modern phenomenon, but we are not the first generation—or 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.

Spanning disciplines from evolutionary theory and cultural anthropology to the history of books, libraries, and computer science, 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 Internet. Finally, he pulls these threads together to reach a surprising conclusion, suggesting that the future of the information age may lie deep in our past.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Alex Wright delivers a fascinating tour of the many ways that humans have collected, organized, and shared information to show how the information age started long before microchips or movable type."—Publishers Weekly

"This stimulating book offers much opportunity to reflect on the nature and long history of information management as a damper to the panic or the elation we may variously feel as we face ever greater scales of information overload."—Nature

"Glut is a penetrating and highly entertaining meditation on our information age and its historical roots. Alex Wright argues that now is the time to take a hard look at how we have communicated with one another since coming down from the trees, because the way we organize knowledge determines much about how we live."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Glut is a readable romp through the history of information processing. Wright argues that advances in information technology have always sparked conflict between written and oral traditions."—New Scientist

"Glut defies classification. From Incan woven threads to Wikipedia, Alex Wright shows us that humans have been attempting to fix categories upon the world throughout history, and that organizing information is a fundamental part of what makes us human. Many books tell you how to organizing things—this one tells you why we do it."—Paul Ford, Associate Editor, Harper's Magazine

"Information technology is part of what makes us human, and its story is our own. In this masterfully written book, Alex Wright traces the roots of the IT Revolution deep into human prehistory, showing how our lives are intimately bound up with the 'escalating fugue' of information technology."—Louis Rosenfeld, coauthor of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web

"We have no idea how to handle the upcoming explosion of information. I found Alex Wright's quick, clear history of past methods for managing oceans of information to be a handy clue to where we are going. He introduces you to an ecosystem of information organizations far more complex and interesting than the mere 'search' tool."—Kevin Kelly, author of Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World

"This is a must-read for anybody who wants to understand where we've been and where we're going. A lucid, exciting book full of flashes of surprise about how we've done it all before: prehistoric beads as networking aids, third-century random access systems, seventh-century Irish monastic bloggers, eleventh-century multimedia, sixteenth-century hypertext. I wish I'd written it!"—James Burke, author of American Connections: The Founding Fathers Networked

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801475092
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 1,303,335
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Networks and Hierarchies 5

2 Family Trees and the Tree of Life 22

3 The Ice Age Information Explosion 39

4 The Age of Alphabets 48

5 Illuminating the Dark Age 78

6 A Steam Engine of the Mind 99

7 The Astral Power Station 122

8 The Encyclopedic Revolution 143

9 The Moose That Roared 152

10 The Industrial Library 165

11 The Web That Wasn't 183

12 Memories of the Future 230


A John Wilkins's Universal Categories 239

B Thomas Jefferson's 1783 Catalog of Books 242

C The Dewey Decimal System 245

D S. R. Ranganathan's Colon Classification 247

Acknowledgments 251

Notes 253

Index 271

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