The Information | James Gleick

Summary of: The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
By: James Gleick


Embark on a fascinating journey through the history and evolution of information with James Gleick’s book ‘The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood’. The summary explores the complex nature of information, its role in communication, and how it has shaped human history and culture. Discover how methods of long-distance communication have advanced from talking drums in Africa to the revolutionary impact of the telegraph. Delve into the world of genetics, where information takes form in DNA, and learn about Richard Dawkins’ theory on memes – intangible cultural elements that influence behavior and spread from individual to individual.

The Power of Information in African Drums

Information can be conveyed in various forms, including arrangements of objects, sounds, movements, or symbols. In Africa, drumming was a prevalent form of communication used to convey important information between communities. John F. Carrington, an English missionary, came to understand the “talking drums” of Africa and discovered they were used not only to signal danger but also to tell stories and jokes. The tonal nature of African languages allowed communities to mimic pitches with drums, making communication over great distances possible.

The Power of Information

Information is more than just facts; it can be conveyed through various arrangements of objects, sounds, and symbols. Early interest in information was primarily focused on communication and was achieved through different methods such as letters, dashes, and drum beats. John F. Carrington, an English missionary, discovered and explained the “talking drums” of Africa, where communities were able to mimic tonal languages with their drums to convey information over great distances. The ability to communicate through different modes of information, including tonal pitches, has been a powerful tool throughout history.

A Brief History of English Dictionaries

English dictionaries have come a long way since the first attempt by Robert Cawdrey in 1604. Although his Table Alphabeticall was only a collection of 2,500 words, it marked the beginning of a journey towards capturing the entire English language. The founders of the Oxford English Dictionary thought that the task was finite, but soon realized the futility of their quest due to the ever-changing slang and scientific jargon that enters the language. Moreover, with words such as “make” having 98 distinct definitions, the complexity of defining words that we use most often cannot be ignored. Throughout the years, lexicographers have tried to catalogue the language more rigorously, but the task proves to be impossible. With the emergence of new words every day, it’s time to acknowledge that no matter how vast our dictionaries become, they will never be complete.

Communication Evolution

The invention of the electric telegraph revolutionized long-distance communication. It transmitted messages using interruptions in electric currents, allowing information to travel at unprecedented speeds. This meant people could connect with each other faster than ever, and gain new perspectives on sharing and understanding information. The telegraph sparked new ideas about how language could be converted into math formulas, as portrayed in George Boole’s book “The Laws of Thought.”

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