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David L. Ulin reviews 'The Information'

March 14, 2011 | 10:31 am

James Gleick writes about science and technology and has twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In his latest book, "The Information," he posits that the information age is nothing new -- in fact, it goes back to Homer and Socrates.

"For Gleick, information has always been our medium; since cave dwellers painted the first animal forms on their walls, we have existed in two parallel universes, the biosphere and the infosphere," David L. Ulin writes in our review. Ulin continues:

"We are the species," he observes, "that named itself Homo sapiens, the one who knows — and then, after reflection, amended that to Homo sapiens sapiens." Our self-consciousness, in other words — our awareness of our awareness — resides at the heart of our incessant need to process and to know. Over the course of human culture, there have been a number of significant transformations, beginning with the alphabet, which Gleick calls "a founding technology of information. The telephone, the fax machine, the calculator, and, ultimately, the computer are only the latest innovations devised for saving, manipulating and communicating knowledge." It is his idea that all these technologies exist as part of a continuum, with each developing from the last.

The key to such an argument is perspective, which is often in short supply when it comes to the information culture, with its tendency to inspire either paeans or jeremiads. Gleick, however, is too smart for that; he's all about the forest, not the trees.

Read the rest of The Times' review of "The Information" here.

James Gleick will come to the Zocalo Public Square reading series Tuesday; it's being held at the Petersen Automotive Museum. The event, which is free, begins at 7:30 p.m. Parking is $8.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: British Telecom wires in January 2011. Credit: Luke MacGregor / Reuters