Look around you. See the computer or mobile device before your eyes. Now, step back in time. Imagine the 1980’s, visualize a place without the Internet or mobile devices. Can you see it? Great. Magazines, newspapers, fax machines. They’re all there. Now, go further back. Forget about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. In the history of computers, they’re no Claude Shannon, Alan Turing, Charles Babbage, nor Ada Lovelace. But, don’t get hung up on computers. Think of their function as pieces of communication technology. Envision the sweeping changes caused by the telephone and before it, the telegraph. Imagine information that travels no faster than a horse. How quiet, how large, how mysterious the world must have seemed? However, we’re not quite there. The printing press, the written word, spoken language to text, spoken language translated to drum beats. A time when language was more free-form. Can you see it?
If not, don’t worry. In The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, James Gleick unfolds this history of human communication. The writing is clear and engaging. Gleick starts with African drums and how they were used to communicate across distance. One drummer pounding out a message, while another passes it along. The sounds filled the night air as messages were transmitted. It’s a fascinating book with appeal to those interested in technology, computers, or math. This semester, I used the book in an introductory digital humanities course. It provided a great reference point for the course and helped make the connection between technology and human experience.
Overall, I highly recommend the book. I learned a lot from it, but best of all, I enjoyed reading it.