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As PR for an upcoming appearance by James Gleick, whose new book The Information I am greatly looking forward to reading, Zocalo Public Square asked four or five folks “Can there be too much information?” It’s an interesting collection of responses. (Well, mine excepted.)

And underneath these interesting-in-themselves essays runs a different question when they are taken together: What the heck do we mean by “information” anyway? I’m not sure any of the respondents is defining it in the same way. The ways include: opinions, raw data, words, ideas, photos, switches and dials, and books. Of course, some of these are containers of information or examples of information. But they do not reduce to a single definition. (I believe Gleick’s book is at least in part about this ambiguity about information. It’s also something I’ve been researching for the past couple of years.)

As far as my contribution goes, I had to decide whether to provide an Everything Is Miscellaneous answer (we are learning to organize info in new ways) or a Too Big to Know answer (the quantity of info is changing the nature of knowledge). I went with the new book rather than the old, if only because I wrote the tiny essay within minutes after finishing revising the book manuscript.

2 Responses to “Can there be too much information? And what would it be too much of?”

  1. on 15 Mar 2011 at 10:17 pmDaniel Cooper Clark

    As I understand it from cursory poking around on the subject, information is signals (bits) moving along a channel from transmitter to receiver. Information doesn’t just sit there. It’s always in motion. Information assumes communication. By that definition, “too much information” means too much communication for the receiver to absorb. That is, info overload, or, “Shut up and let me think!”

    The solution is having a proper method of selecting the transmitters whose signals you want to receive. I work in a library. Today I went through a list of a few hundred books about to be published and recommended that we buy nine of them (our budget’s been slashed). Out of a ton of stuff I chose an appropriate amount to receive.

    Information in general, on a cosmic scale, is close to infinite and always has been. As Gleick is apparently saying in his book (which I haven’t read but want to), what are you going to tune into? How do you select? How do you organize it? David Ulin’s LA Times review of Gleick’s book ends this way –

    “The library will endure,” he [Gleick] writes; “it is the universe. … We walk the corridors, searching the shelves and rearranging them, looking for lines of meaning amid leagues of cacophony and incoherence” — just as we have always done.

    I like that. Living in the cosmos is like browsing through the stacks of a library. I think we should all be as happy as kings!

  2. on 20 Oct 2011 at 9:19 amImam

    What is the book talk about mostly? The information is so important.