Sunday, September 23, 2007

Information age: Not dead yet.

Joe has another interesting article, this one on the end of the information age.

I like the article, I like the argument, but I don't quite like the conclusion. As Churchill said, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

What has happened is that we have moved from information scarcity to information abundance. You could just as well argue that this marks the beginning of the real information age. In which case I think Joe is saying the same thing, except that instead of "real information age" we should call it something else.

For that matter, when did the "classic" information age start? Did it start when it became possible for someone to make a living dealing solely in information? That would be quite a while ago. Did it start when information management allowed geographically large entities to persist over time? Also quite a ways back.

Did it start when people on opposite sides of a continent could communicate with each other instantaneously or nearly so? That would be sometime in the 19th century. When the first modern computer was built? Mid-20th. The first PC? The first use of the term internet? Take your pick.

Ages are not mutually exclusive. We are still very much in the industrial age. New industrial products and processes are invented all the time. Large parts of the world remain largely unindustrialized -- even as they build out their information infrastructure.

We're just not focused on being in the industrial age. William Gibson asserts that if it's not new technology, it's not considered technology. In the present case, maybe it's industry itself that's not new?

The industrial age comprises a number of milestones such as the invention of the steam engine, the assembly line and other mass production techniques, numerically-controlled machine tools and so forth. It also comprises a number of trends, such as a decreasing work week and machines replacing human workers over time.

The information age is no different. The (over)saturation of human bandwidth by available information is one of many milestones and, as far as I can tell, a fairly early one.

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