the more things change…

I highly enjoyed both the Bush and Borges readings.   I have read the Borges reading a number of years ago, at the suggestion of a friend after she found out I was planning on attending library school.  After reading it that first time before starting school and now re-reading it today, I still feel like the story is an intriguing, albeit unintentional metaphor, for the problems we often face today with the glut of information that is the hallmark of the information age, in particular the seemingly endless world of words, ideas, data, images, sounds, and even motion that is the internet.  Without structure and understanding of how to navigate all of that stuff, it can seem as meaningless, or distracting, or maddening as the endless rooms and stairs of Borges’s library.  Ultimately, we are faced with the question of what good is having all of this information, this stuff, if we do not know how to effectively find it or use it.

What is striking to me in reading the Bush article is that this concern about wading through too much information was a serious concern, for at least the scientific and research community, over “60 years ago.  I very much enjoyed reading about Bush’s vision of information technology of the future on my own sort of “memex” machine, namely my ipad.  What I was stuck by most was that even as forward thinking Dr. Bush’s vision of the future was, he was still ultimately a product of the analog world, and could not could not conceive of the possibilities of the digital revolution, and what that would mean for faster computing and seemingly unlimited information storage capacity.

The digital revolution, from computer chips to advances in telecommunications, has done much to alleviate some of Bush’s concerns, by allowing for faster/more complex computing thus relieving scientists, and anyone else with access to any of today’s technology, the waste of time that are repetitive processes, as well as making the costs of storage so inexpensive that the record of information that we could conceivably store seems to be nearly limitless.  But in there lies a problem of the more things change the more they stay the same. The interesting and ironic outcome of Bush’s argument that technological improvements will solve the information glut problem, is that today, while we can access and create more stuff faster, we are left with where Bush began, having more information than we can manage through which to sift.

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