Book reviews from The Free Lance-Star.
Can you hear me?
By Dan Dervin
For The Free Lance-Star
AROUND 1880 Queen Victoria was provided a telephone in Buckingham Palace. The public had been skeptical of its use as the telegraph was performing quite well, even though it had been greeted with alarm as tolling the demise of newspapers.
As the royals of a later era gathered at the telly for “Dallas,” the image of Victoria on the telephone focuses the history and reach of information’s relentless revolution. Gleick’s fascinating chronicle also plays up the complexity. Despite her new gizmo Victoria would have no one to chat with and no telephone directory or numbers system.
Gleick cites the enduring and intricate relay system of African drummers as our earliest sound network. Sounds, numbers and words comprise many formation bits; how we have deployed them in ever-faster, more-efficient ways measures our long history. No wonder scientists claim this capacity for sending, storing and passing on these bits has put the double sapiens in our Homo.
But if information is composed of bits, of what are bits composed? Dots, dashes, waves? Chemical or cellular, like genes in DNA? Physical as in libraries? Mental as in thoughts? Electronic as in Google and Wikipedia?
Gleick concludes with the hazards of information glut, but we all dwell along the Information Highway now.
Dan Dervin is a freelance writer in Fredericksburg.
By James Geick
(Pantheon, $29.95, 544 pp.)
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