Alex Wright: Glut: Mastering Information Though the Ages - The Long Now

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  1. The Web That Wasn’t

    Google Tech Talks October, 23 2007


    For most of us who work on the Internet, the Web is all we have ever really known. It’s almost impossible to imagine a world without browsers, URLs and HTTP. But in the years leading up to Tim Berners-Lee’s world-changing invention, a few visionary information scientists were exploring alternative systems that often bore little resemblance to the Web as we know it today. In this presentation, author and information architect Alex Wright will explore the heritage of these almost-forgotten systems in search of promising ideas left by the historical wayside.

    The presentation will focus on the pioneering work of Paul Otlet, Vannevar Bush, and Doug Engelbart, forebears of the 1960s and 1970s like Ted Nelson, Andries van Dam, and the Xerox PARC team, and more recent forays like Brown’s Intermedia system. We’ll trace the heritage of these systems and the solutions they suggest to present day Web quandaries, in hopes of finding clues to the future in the recent technological past.

    Speaker: Alex Wright Alex Wright is an information architect at the New York Times and the author of Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages. Previously, Alex has led projects for The Long Now Foundation, California Digital Library, Harvard University, IBM, Microsoft, Rollyo and Sun Microsystems, among others. …

    Original video:

    —Huffduffed by kevinpacheco

  2. Alex Wright: Glut: Mastering Information Though the Ages - The Long Now

    As usual, microbes led the way. Bacteria have swarmed in intense networks for 3.5 billion years. Then a hierarchical form emerged with the first nucleated cells that were made up of an enclosed society of formerly independent organisms.

    That’s the pattern for the evolution of information, Alex Wright said. Networks coalesce into hierarchies, which then form a new level of networks, which coalesce again, and so on. Thus an unending series of information explosions is finessed.

    In humans, classification schemes emerged everywhere, defining how things are connected in larger contexts. Researchers into “folk taxonomies” have found that all cultures universally describe things they care about in hierarchical layers, and those hierarchies are usually five layers deep.

    Family tree hierarchies were accorded to the gods, who were human-like personalities but also represented various natural forces.

    Starting 30,000 years ago the “ice age information explosion” brought the transition to collaborative big game hunting, cave paintings, and elaborate decorative jewelry that carried status information. It was the beginning of information’s “release from social proximity.”

    5,000 years ago in Sumer, accountants began the process toward writing, beginning with numbers, then labels and lists, which enabled bureaucracy. Scribes were just below kings in prestige. Finally came written narratives such as Gilgamesh.

    The move from oral culture to literate culture is profound. Oral is additive, aggregative, participatory, and situational, where literate is subordinate, analytic, objective, and abstract. (One phenomenon of current Net culture is re-emergence of oral forms in email, twittering, YouTube, etc.)

    Wright honored the sequence of information-ordering visionaries who brought us to our present state. In 1883 Charles Cutter devised a classification scheme that led in part to the Library of Congress system and devised an apparatus of keyboard and wires that would fetch the desired book. H.G. Wells proposed a “world brain” of data and imagined that it would one day wake up. Teilhard de Chardin anticipated an “etherization of human consciousness” into a global noosphere.

    The greatest unknown revolutionary was the Belgian Paul Otlet. In 1895 he set about freeing the information in books from their bindings. He built a universal decimal classification and then figured out how that organized data could be explored, via “links” and a “web.” In 1910 Otlet created a “radiated library” called the Mundameum in Brussels that managed search queries in a massive way until the Nazis destroyed the service. Alex Wright showed an astonishing video of how Otlet’s distributed telephone-plus-screen system worked.

    Wright concluded with the contributions of Vannevar Bush (”associative trails” in his Memex system), Eugene Garfield’s Science Citation Index, the predecessor of page ranking. Doug Engelbart’s working hypertext system in the “mother of all demos.” And Ted Nelson who helped inspire Engelbart and Berners-Lee and who Wright considers “directly responsible for the generation of the World Wide Web.”

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  3. The Information: James Gleick talks about his new book

    James Gleick is a native New Yorker and a graduate of Harvard and the author of a half-dozen books on science, technology, and culture. His latest bestseller, translated into 20 languages, is The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, which the NY Times called "ambitious, illuminating, and sexily theoretical." Whatever they meant by that. They also said "Don’t make the mistake of reading it quickly."

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  4. Buddhist Geeks interview with Alex Soojung-Kim Pang - Part Two: Contemplative Computing

    Episode Description:

    Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is an author, scholar, and Futurist most recently concerned with contemplative computing, the effort to use information technologies in ways that help one focus and be more creative, not fractured and distracted.

    In the second half of this interview with host Vincent Horn, Alex talks in more detail about his book The Distraction Addiction and it’s central premise of how to engage with technology in a contemplative way. Alex describes the research involved in writing the book, the conclusions he’s made about technology and mindfulness, and how the practices of contemplative computing could affect the future of wearable tech, UI design, and technology in general.

    This is part two of a two part series.

    Listen to part one – BG 299: Technological Determinism.

    Episode Links:

    Contemplative Computing Blog

    The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul



    Transcript coming soon…

    —Huffduffed by m

  5. Robert Wright: How cooperation (eventually) trumps conflict

    From TED 2006. Author Robert Wright explains "non-zero-sumness" — the network of linked fortunes and cooperation that has guided our evolution to this point — and how we can use it to help save humanity today.

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  6. Long Now: Six Easy Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization

    Neuroscientist and fiction writer David Eagleman presents "Six Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization."

    Civilizations always think they’re immortal, Eagleman says, but they nearly always perish, leaving "nothing but ruins and scattered genetics." It takes luck and new technology to survive. We may be particularly lucky to have Internet technology to help manage the six requirements of a durable civilization

    —Huffduffed by Clampants

  7. The Information Bingers - Future Tense - ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

    We often hear the term ‘information overload’ but is it a case of over-consumption as much as filter failure? There’s a school of thought that says we now take in information in the same way we consume fast food—without control or moderation.

    Ann Blair, Harvard College Professor, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History.

    Clay Johnson, Author of The Information Diet and co-founder of Blue State Digital.

    Robert Hillard, Partner at Deloitte Enterprise Information Management, National Leader of Technology Consulting & author of the ‘Information Driven Business’.

    Caroline Webb, Partner and Leadership Coach at Mckinsey and Company (London).

    Title: The Information Diet
    Author: Clay Johnson
    Publisher: O’Reilly Media

    Title: The Information Driven Business
    Author: Robert Hillard
    Publisher: John Wiley & Sons

    Further Information:
    The Information Diet (

    Robert Hillard’s blog (

    Mckinsey article: Recovering from information overload (

    Ann Blair’s profile (

    —Huffduffed by theJBJshow

  8. What Information Was by David Weinberger

    It’s puzzling that even though we named an age after information, very few people can tell you what information is. And the ones with the clearest answers are often defining information in the technical sense, which is not the sense in which the culture took it up. In this session, we’ll look back at information, trying to understand what about it led us to embrace it as the dominant — paradigmatic — way of understanding ourselves and our world. David Weinberger will present an informal sketch of a direction, suggesting that we leaped into information because it reflected a long-held but squirrely metaphysics. There will be lots of time for open discussion.

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  9. Interview: Lawrence Wright, Author Of ‘Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood And The Prison Of Belief’ | NPR

    Journalist Lawrence Wright’s new book, Going Clear, is a penetrating look at Scientology and its famous practitioners. The book centers on Crash and Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis, who famously left the church over its support for an anti-gay marriage initiative in California.

    —Huffduffed by drewcompton

  10. Simply Jesus - WGN Radio

    Author N.T. Wright provides a provocative new picture of how to understand who Jesus was and how we should relate to him today.,0,7403356.mp3file

    —Huffduffed by jimftw