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"Everything you can imagine is real."— Pablo Picasso



Age of information
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Rolf Fobelli: News is to the mind what sugar is to the body


"We humans seem to be natural-born signal hunters, we’re terrible at regulating our intake of information. We’ll consume a ton of noise if we sense we may discover an added ounce of signal. So our instinct is at war with our capacity for making sense.”

Nicholas Carr, A little more signal, a lot more noise, Rough Type, May 30, 2012.

"When people struggle to describe the state that the Internet puts them in they arrive at a remarkably familiar picture of disassociation and fragmentation. Life was once whole, continuous, stable; now it is fragmented, multi-part, shimmering around us, unstable and impossible to fix. The world becomes Keats’s “waking dream,” as the writer Kevin Kelly puts it.”

Adam Gopnik on The Information and How the Internet gets inside us, 2011

"Our brains are wired to pay attention to visible, large, scandalous, sensational, shocking, peoplerelated, story-formatted, fast changing, loud, graphic onslaughts of stimuli. Our brains have limited attention to spend on more subtle pieces of intelligence that are small, abstract, ambivalent, complex, slow to develop and quiet, much less silent. News organizations systematically exploit this bias. News media outlets, by and large, focus on the highly visible. They display whatever information they can convey with gripping stories and lurid pictures, and they systematically ignore the subtle and insidious, even if that material is more important. News grabs our attention; that’s how its business model works. Even if the advertising model didn’t exist, we would still soak up news pieces because they are easy to digest and superficially quite tasty. The highly visible misleads us. (…)

  • Terrorism is overrated. Chronic stress is underrated.
  • The collapse of Lehman Brothers is overrated. Fiscal irresponsibility is underrated.
  • Astronauts are overrated. Nurses are underrated.
  • Britney Spears is overrated. IPCC reports are underrated.
  • Airplane crashes are overrated. Resistance to antibiotics is underrated.


Afraid you will miss “something important”? From my experience, if something really important happens, you will hear about it, even if you live in a cocoon that protects you from the news. Friends and colleagues will tell you about relevant events far more reliably than any news organization. They will fill you in with the added benefit of meta-information, since they know your priorities and you know how they think. You will learn far more about really important events and societal shifts by reading about them in specialized journals, in-depth magazines or good books and by talking to the people who know. (…)

The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. (…)

Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News items are like free-floating radicals that interfere with clear thinking. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. (…)

This is about the inability to think clearly because you have opened yourself up to the disruptive factoid stream. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News severely affects memory. (…)

News is an interruption system. It seizes your attention only to scramble it. Besides a lack of glucose in your blood stream, news distraction is the biggest barricade to clear thinking. (…)

In the words of Professor Michael Merzenich (University of California, San Francisco), a pioneer in the field of neuroplasticity: “We are training our brains to pay attention to the crap.” (…)

Good professional journalists take time with their stories, authenticate their facts and try to think things through. But like any profession, journalism has some incompetent, unfair practitioners who don’t have the time – or the capacity – for deep analysis. You might not be able to tell the difference between a polished professional report and a rushed, glib, paid-by-the-piece article by a writer with an ax to grind. It all looks like news.

My estimate: fewer than 10% of the news stories are original. Less than 1% are truly investigative. And only once every 50 years do journalists uncover a Watergate.

Many reporters cobble together the rest of the news from other people’s reports, common knowledge, shallow thinking and whatever the journalist can find on the internet. Some reporters copy from each other or refer to old pieces, without necessarily catching up with any interim corrections. The copying and the copying of the copies multiply the flaws in the stories and their irrelevance. (…)

Overwhelming evidence indicates that forecasts by journalists and by experts in finance, social development, global conflicts and technology are almost always completely wrong. So, why consume that junk?

Did the newspapers predict World War I, the Great Depression, the sexual revolution, the fall of the Soviet empire, the rise of the Internet, resistance to antibiotics, the fall of Europe’s birth rate or the explosion in depression cases? Maybe, you’d find one or two correct predictions in a sea of millions of mistaken ones. Incorrect forecast are not only useless, they are harmful.

To increase the accuracy of your predictions, cut out the news and roll the dice or, if you are ready for depth, read books and knowledgeable journals to understand the invisible generators that affect our world. (…)

I have now gone without news for a year, so I can see, feel and report the effects of this freedom first hand: less disruption, more time, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more insights. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.”

Table of Contents:

No 1 – News misleads us systematically
No 2 – News is irrelevant
No 3 – News limits understanding
No 4 – News is toxic to your body
No 5 – News massively increases cognitive errors
No 6 – News inhibits thinking
No 7 – News changes the structure of your brain
No 8 – News is costly
No 9 – News sunders the relationship between reputation and achievement
No 10 – News is produced by journalists
No 11 – Reported facts are sometimes wrong, forecasts always
No 12 – News is manipulative
No 13 – News makes us passive
No 14 – News gives us the illusion of caring
No 15 – News kills creativity

Rolf Dobelli, Swiss novelist, writer, entrepreneur and curator of zurich.minds, to read full essay click Avoid News. Towards a Healthy News Diet (pdf), 2010. (Illustration: Information Overload by taylorboren)

See also:

The Difference Between Online Knowledge and Truly Open Knowledge. In the era of the Internet facts are not bricks but networks
Nicholas Carr on the evolution of communication technology and our compulsive consumption of information
Does Google Make Us Stupid?
Nicholas Carr on what the internet is doing to our brains?
How the Internet Affects Our Memories: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips
☞ Dr Paul Howard-Jones, The impact of digital technologies on human wellbeing (pdf), University of Bristol
William Deresiewicz on multitasking and the value of solitude
Information tag on Lapidarium


The Cognitive Limit of Organizations. The structure of a society is connected to its total amount of information
                                               Click image to enlarge

The vertical axis of this slide represents the total stock of information in the world. The horizontal axis represents time.

In the early days, life was simple. We did important things like make spears and arrowheads. The amount of knowledge needed to make these items, however, was small enough that a single person could master their production. There was no need for a large division of labor and new knowledge was extremely precious. If you got new knowledge, you did not want to share it. After all, in a world where most knowledge can fit in someone’s head, stealing ideas is easy, and appropriating the value of the ideas you generate is hard.

At some point, however, the amount of knowledge required to make things began to exceed the cognitive limit of a single human being. Things could only be done in teams, and sharing information among team members was required to build these complex items. Organizations were born as our social skills began to compensate for our limited cognitive skills. Society, however, kept on accruing more and more knowledge, and the cognitive limit of organizations, just like that of the spearmaker, was ultimately reached. (…)

Today, however, most products are combinations of knowledge and intellectual property that resides in different organizations. Our world is less and less about the single pieces of intellectual property and more and more about the networks that help connect these pieces. The total stock of information used in these ecosystems exceeds the capacity of single organizations because doubling the size of huge organizations does not double the capacity of that organization to hold knowledge and put it into productive use.

In a world in which implementing the next generation of ideas will increasingly require pulling resources from different organizations, barriers to collaboration will be a crucial constraint limiting the development of firms. Agility, context, and a strong network are becoming the survival traits where assets, control, and power used to rule. John Seely Brown refers to this as the “Power of Pull.”“

The Cognitive Limit of Organizations, MIT Media Lab, Oct 7, 2011.


Nicholas Carr on the evolution of communication technology and our compulsive consumption of information


"The term “information age” gets across our sense that we’re engulfed in information in a way that is very different from anything that’s come before. (…)

I think it’s pretty clear that humans have a natural inclination, even compulsion, to seek out information. We want not only to be entertained but to know everything that is going on around us. And so as these different mass media have proliferated, we’ve gone along with the technology and consumed – to put an ugly term on it – more information. (…)

"In “The Shallows” I argue that the Internet fundamentally encourages very rapid gathering of small bits of information – the skimming and scanning of information to quickly get the basic gist of it. What it discourages are therefore the ways of thinking that require greater attentiveness and concentration, everything from contemplation to reflection to deep reading.

The Internet is a hypertext system, which means that it puts lots of links in a text. These links are valuable to us because they allow us to go very quickly between one bit of information and another. But there are studies that compare what happens when a person reads a printed page of text versus when you put links into that text. Even though we may not be conscious of it, a link represents a little distraction, a little division of attention. You can see in the evidence that reading comprehension goes down with hypertext versus plaintext. (…)

The reason why I start with Tom Standage’s book is because we tend to think of the information age as something entirely new. In fact, people have been wrestling with information for many centuries. If I was going to say when the information age started, I would probably say the 15th century with the invention of the mechanical clock, which turned time into a measurable flow, and the printing press, which expanded our ability to tap into other kinds of thinking. The information age has been building ever since then.

Standage covers one very important milestone in that story, which is the building of the telegraph system in the 19th century. The telegraph was the first really efficient system for long-distance, almost instantaneous communication. It’s a short book, a very lively read, and it shows how this ability to throw one’s thoughts across the world changed all aspects of society. It certainly changed the business world. Suddenly you could coordinate a business not just in a local area, but across the country or across oceans. It had a lot of social implications too, as people didn’t have to wait for letters to come over the course of days. And as Standage points out, it inspired a lot of the same hopes and concerns that we have today with the Internet. (…)

If “The Information” is a sprawling, sweeping story of how information has changed over time, one thing it doesn’t get into is the commercial nature of information as a good that is bought and sold. That’s the story Tim Wu tells in ”The Master Switch.” His basic argument is that whenever a new communication medium arises, a similar pattern occurs. The technology starts off as a hobbyist’s passion, democratic and open. Then over time, as it becomes more popular, it starts to be dominated by corporate interests and becomes much more formalised, before eventually being displaced by a new technology.

You see this with radio, for instance. In the beginning, radio was very much a hobbyist’s technology. When people bought a radio back then it wasn’t just a receiver, it was a transmitter. People would both receive and transmit information through their radio – it was an early version of the blogosphere in some ways. Then dominant radio corporations come in, and suddenly radio isn’t a democratic tool for transmitting and receiving information, it’s purely for receiving. Tim Wu tells a series of stories like this, and television. All of that history is really a backdrop for a discussion of the Internet, which Wu suggests will likely follow the same cycle.

So far, I think we’ve seen that. When the World Wide Web appeared 20 years ago, there was all kinds of utopian, democratic rhetoric about how it was breaking the hold of big corporations over media and communications. You saw a huge explosion of personal websites. But over time you saw corporate interests begin to dominate the web – Google, Facebook and so on. If you look at how much time a user devotes to Facebook, it shows a consolidation and centralisation of web activity onto these large corporate sites. (…)

Matthew Crawford argues that we’re losing our sense of importance of actual physical interaction with the natural world. He says that the richest kind of thinking that’s open to human beings is not thinking that takes place in the mind but thinking that involves both the mind and the body interacting with the world. Whereas when we’re sitting at our computer or looking at our smartphone, we’re in a world of symbols. It seems to me that one of the dangers of the Internet, and the way that the screen mediates all work and other kinds of processing, is that not only are we distancing ourselves from interaction with the world, but we’re beginning to lose sight of the fact that that’s even important. (…)

As more and more of the physical world is operated by software and computers, we shut off interacting with the world. Crawford, in addition to being a political philosopher, is also a motorcycle mechanic. And a lot of the book is simply stories of being a mechanic. One of the points he makes is that people used to know how their cars worked. They could open the hood, see all of the parts of their engine, change their own oil. Now when you open your hood you can’t touch anything and you don’t know how the thing works. We’ve allowed ourselves to be removed from the physical world. We’re told just to look at our GPS screen and forget how the engine works.

Q: A key point about the information age we should mention is that societies have moved from an industrial economy to a service economy, with more people in white-collar jobs and increasing income disparity as a result.

That’s absolutely true. More and more of our basic jobs, due to broad shifts in the economy, involve manipulating symbols, whether it’s words, numbers or images. That too serves to distance ourselves from manual manipulation of the world. We have offloaded all of those jobs to specialists in order to spend more time working with symbols.

Q: Tell us why you’re closing with Gary Shteyngart’s novel “Super Sad True Love Story.”

I think that novelists, and other artists, are only beginning to grapple with the implications of the Internet, smartphones and all of that. Literature provides a different and very valuable way of perceiving those implications, so I decided to end with a novel. This book is both funny and extremely horrifying. It’s set in a future that is very close in some ways to the present. Shteyngart takes phenomena and trends that are around us but we don’t even notice, pushes them a little more extreme, and suddenly it gives you a new way to think about not only where we’re heading but where we already are. (…)

As is true with most dystopian science fiction, I don’t think it’s an attempt to portray what’s going to happen. It’s more an insight into how much we and our societies have changed in a very short time, without really being aware of it. If somebody from even 10 years ago suddenly dropped into the world and saw us all walking down the street staring at these little screens, hitting them with our thumbs, it would seem very strange.

It is becoming more and more normal to monitor your smartphone even while having a conversation with a friend, spouse or child. A couple will go out to a restaurant and the first thing they will each do is stick their iPhone or Android on the table in front of them, basically announcing that they’re not going to give their full attention to the other person. So technology seems to be changing even our relationships and social expectations. (…)

Q: In a hundred years’ time, what do you think the legacy of the early Internet will be?

I think the legacy will both be of enormous benefits – particularly those that can be measured in terms of efficiency and productivity, but also the ability for people to communicate with others – and also of more troubling consequences. We are witnessing an erosion not only of privacy but of the sense that privacy of the individual is important. And we are seeing the commercialisation of processes of communication, affiliation and friendship that used to be considered intimate.

You’re probably right to talk about a hundred years to sort this all out. There’s a whole lot of threads to the story that being in the midst of it are hard to see properly, and it’s difficult to figure out what the balance of good, bad and indifferent is.

Q: What’s next in the immediate five or 10 years for the information age?

More of the same. Overall I think the general trend, as exemplified by social networks and the evolution of Google, is towards ever smaller bits of information delivered ever more quickly to people who are increasingly compulsive consumers of media and communication products. So I would say more screens, smaller screens, more streams of information coming at us from more directions, and more of us adapting to that way of living and thinking, for better or worse.

Q: So we’re not at the apex of the information age? That peak is yet to come?

All indications are that we’re going to see more rather than less.”

Nicholas Carr, American writer, interwieved by Alec Ash, Our compulsive consumption of information, The Browser -, Mar 19, 2012.

See also:

Does Google Make Us Stupid?
Nicholas Carr on what the internet is doing to our brains?
Nicholas Carr on Books That Are Never Done Being Written


Supercomputer predicts revolution: Forecasting large-scale human behavior using global news media tone in time and space

Figure 1. Global geocoded tone of all Summary of World Broadcasts content, 2005. Note: Click on image to see animation.

"Feeding a supercomputer with news stories could help predict major world events, according to US research.

While the analysis was carried out retrospectively, scientists say the same processes could be used to anticipate upcoming conflict. (…)

The study’s information was taken from a range of sources including the US government-run Open Source Centre and BBC Monitoring, both of which monitor local media output around the world.

News outlets which published online versions were also analysed, as was the New York Times' archive, going back to 1945.

In total, Mr Leetaru gathered more than 100 million articles.

Reports were analysed for two main types of information: mood - whether the article represented good news or bad news, and location - where events were happening and the location of other participants in the story.

Mood detection, or “automated sentiment mining” searched for words such as “terrible”, “horrific” or “nice”.

Location, or “geocoding” took mentions of specific places, such as “Cairo” and converted them in to coordinates that could be plotted on a map.

Analysis of story elements was used to create an interconnected web of 100 trillion relationships. (…)

The computer event analysis model appears to give forewarning of major events, based on deteriorating sentiment.

However, in the case of this study, its analysis is applied to things that have already happened.

According to Kalev Leetaru, such a system could easily be adapted to work in real time, giving an element of foresight. (…)

"It looks like a stock ticker in many regards and you know what direction it has been heading the last few minutes and you want to know where it is heading in the next few.

"It is very similar to what economic forecasting algorithms do.” (…)

"The next iteration is going to city level and beyond and looking at individual groups and how they interact.

"I liken it to weather forecasting. It’s never perfect, but we do better than random guessing."

Supercomputer predicts revolution, BBC News, 9 September 2011

Culturomics 2.0: Forecasting large-scale human behavior using global news media tone in time and space

"News is increasingly being produced and consumed online, supplanting print and broadcast to represent nearly half of the news monitored across the world today by Western intelligence agencies. Recent literature has suggested that computational analysis of large text archives can yield novel insights to the functioning of society, including predicting future economic events. Applying tone and geographic analysis to a 30–year worldwide news archive, global news tone is found to have forecasted the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, including the removal of Egyptian President Mubarak, predicted the stability of Saudi Arabia (at least through May 2011), estimated Osama Bin Laden’s likely hiding place as a 200–kilometer radius in Northern Pakistan that includes Abbotabad, and offered a new look at the world’s cultural affiliations. Along the way, common assertions about the news, such as “news is becoming more negative” and “American news portrays a U.S.–centric view of the world” are found to have merit.”

The emerging field of Culturomics” seeks to explore broad cultural trends through the computerized analysis of vast digital book archives, offering novel insights into the functioning of human society (Michel, et al., 2011). Yet, books represent the “digested history” of humanity, written with the benefit of hindsight. People take action based on the imperfect information available to them at the time, and the news media captures a snapshot of the real–time public information environment (Stierholz, 2008). News contains far more than just factual details: an array of cultural and contextual influences strongly impact how events are framed for an outlet’s audience, offering a window into national consciousness (Gerbner and Marvanyi, 1977). A growing body of work has shown that measuring the “tone” of this real–time consciousness can accurately forecast many broad social behaviors, ranging from box office sales (Mishne and Glance, 2006) to the stock market itself (Bollen, et al., 2011). (…)

Figure 2. Global geocoded tone of all Summary of World Broadcasts content, January 1979–April 2011 mentioning “bin Laden”

Most theories of civilizations feature some approximation of the degree of conflict or cooperation between each group. Figure 3 displays the average tone of all links between cities in each civilization, visualizing the overall “tone” of the relationship between each. Group 1, which roughly encompasses the Asiatic and Australian regions, has largely positive links to the rest of the world and is the only group with a positive connection to Group 4 (Middle East). Group 3 (Africa) has no positive links to any other civilization, while Group 2  (North and South America excluding Canada) has negative links to all but Group 1. As opposed to explicit measures of conflict or cooperation based on armed conflict or trade ties, this approach captures the latent view of conflict and cooperation as portrayed by the world’s news media.

Figure 3. Average tone of links between world “civilizations” according to SWB, 1979–2009.

Figure 4 shows the world civilizations according to the New York Times 1945–2005. It divides the world into five civilizations, but paints a very different picture of the world, with a far greater portion of the global landmass arrayed around the United States. Geographic affinity appears to play a far lesser role in this grouping, and the majority of the world is located in a single cluster with the United States. It is clear from comparing the SWB and NYT civilization maps that even within the news media there is no one “universal” set of civilizations, but that each country’s media system may portray the world very differently to its audience. By pooling all of these varied viewpoints together, SWB’s view of the world’s civilizations offers a “crowdsourced” aggregate view of civilization, but it too is likely subject to some innate Western bias.

Figure 4. World “civilizations” according to NYT, 1945–2005. A full–resolution version of this figure is available here

Monitoring first broadcast then print media over the last 70 years, nearly half of the annual output of Western intelligence global news monitoring is now derived from Internet–based news, standing testament to the Web’s disruptive power as a distribution medium. Pooling together the global tone of all news mentions of a country over time appears to accurately forecast its near–term stability, including predicting the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, conflict in Serbia, and the stability of Saudi Arabia.

Location plays a critical role in news reporting, and “passively crowdsourcing” the media to find the locations most closely associated with Bin Laden prior to his capture finds a 200km – wide swath of northern Pakistan as his most likely hiding place, an area which contains Abbottabad, the city he was ultimately captured in. Finally, the geographic clustering of the news, the way in which it frames localities together, offers new insights into how the world views itself and the “natural civilizations” of the news media.

While heavily biased and far from complete, the news media captures the only cross–national real–time record of human society available to researchers. The findings of this study suggest that Culturomics, which has thus far focused on the digested history of books, can yield intriguing new understandings of human society when applied to the real–time data of news. From forecasting impending conflict to offering insights on the locations of wanted fugitives, applying data mining approaches to the vast historical archive of the news media offers promise of new approaches to measuring and understanding human society on a global scale.”

Kalev Leetaru is Senior Research Scientist for Content Analysis at the Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Science at the University of Illinois, Center Affiliate of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and Research Coordinator at the University of Illinois Cline Center for Democracy. His award-winning work centers on the application of high performance computing to grand challenge problems using news and open sources intelligence. He holds three US patents and more than 50 University Invention Disclosures.

To see full research click University of Illinois at Chicago - UI, Volume 16, Number 9, 5 September 2011

See also:

Culturomics: Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books

"Construct a corpus of digitized texts containing about 4% of all books ever printed, and then analyze that corpus using advanced software and the investigatory curiosity of thousands, and you get something called "Culturomics," a field in which cultural trends are represented quantitatively.

In this talk Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel — co-founders of the Cultural Observatory at Harvard and Visiting Faculty at Google — show how culturomics can provide insights about fields as diverse as lexicography, the evolution of grammar, collective memory, the adoption of technology, the pursuit of fame, censorship, and historical epidemiology.”

— E. Lieberman Aiden, Harvard Society of Fellows & Jean-Baptiste Michel, FQEB Fellow at Harvard, Culturomics: Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books, May 10, 2011

See also:

What we learned from 5 million books,, 2011 (video)


How the Internet Affects Our Memories: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips

"Before the printed book, Memory ruled daily life… (…)

The elder Seneca (c. 55 B.C.-A.D. 37), a famous teacher of rhetoric, was said to be able to repeat long passages of speeches he had heard only once many years before. He would impress his students by asking each member of a class of two hundred to recite lines of poetry, and then he would recite all the lines they had quoted—in reverse order, from last to first.”

Daniel Boorsten, American historian, professor, attorney, and writer (1914-2004), The Discoverers, Random House, 1983


"The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger. No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can “Google” the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue. The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.”


"We investigate whether the Internet has become an external memory system that is primed by the need to acquire information. If asked the question whether there are any countries with only one color in their flag, for example, do we think about flags—or immediately think to go online to find out? Our research then tested if, once information has been accessed, our internal encoding is increased for where the information is to be found rather than for the information itself. (…)

Participants apparently did not make the effort to remember when they thought they could later look up the trivia statements they had read. Since search engines are continually available to us, we may often be in a state of not feeling we need to encode the information internally. When we need it, we will look it up. (…)

The social form of information storage is also reflected in the findings that people forget items they think will be available externally, and remember items they think will not be available. And transactive memory is also evident when people seem better able to remember which computer folder an item has been stored in than the identity of the item itself. These results suggest that processes of human memory are adapting to the advent of new computing and communication technology. Just as we learn through transactive memory who knows what in our families and offices, we are learning what the computer “knows” and when we should attend to where we have stored information in our computer-based memories. We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into interconnected systems that remember less by knowing information than by knowing where the information can be found. This gives us the advantage of access to a vast range of information—although the disadvantages of being constantly “wired” are still being debated.

It may be no more that nostalgia at this point, however, to wish we were less dependent on our gadgets. We have become dependent on them to the same degree we are dependent on all the knowledge we gain from our friends and coworkers—and lose if they are out of touch. The experience of losing our Internet connection becomes more and more like losing a friend. We must remain plugged in to know what Google knows.”

— B. Sparrow (Department of Psychology, Columbia University), J. Liu (University of Wisconsin–Madison), D. M. Wegner (Harvard University), ☞ Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips, Science, 5 August 2011: Vol. 333 no. 6043, pp. 776-778

Daniel M. Wegner comment:

"Groups of people commonly depend on one another for memory in this way — not by all knowing the same thing, but by specializing. And now we’ve added our computing devices to the network, depending for memory not just on people but also on a cloud of linked people and specialized information-filled devices.

We have all become a great cybermind. As long as we are connected to our machines through talk and keystrokes, we can all be part of the biggest, smartest mind ever. It is only when we are trapped for a moment without our Internet link that we return to our own humble little personal minds, tumbling back to earth from our flotation devices in the cloud.”

Daniel M. Wegner, professor of psychology at Harvard University, Don’t Fear the Cybermind, The New York Times, Aug 4, 2012 

The Extended Mind

"Why do we engage in reconsolidation? One theory is that reconsolidation helps ensure our memories are kept up to date, interpreted in light of recent experience. The brain has no interest in immaculate recall – it’s only interested in the past to the extent it helps us make sense of the future. By having memories that constantly change, we ensure that the memories stored inside our mental file cabinets are mostly relevant.

Of course, reconsolidation theory poses problems for the fidelity of memory. Although our memories always feel true – like a literal recording of the past – they’re mostly not, since they’re always being edited and bent by what we think now. And now. And now. (See the work of Elizabeth Loftus for more on memory inaccuracy.)

And this is where the internet comes in. One of the virtues of transactive memory is that it acts like a fact-check, helping ensure we don’t all descend into selfish solipsism. By sharing and comparing our memories, we can ensure that we still have some facts in common, that we all haven’t disappeared down the private rabbit hole of our own reconsolidations. In this sense, instinctually wanting to Google information – to not entrust trivia to the fallible brain – is a perfectly healthy impulse. (I’ve used Google to correct my errant memories thousands of times.) I don’t think it’s a sign that technology is rotting our cortex – I think it shows that we’re wise enough to outsource a skill we’re not very good at. Because while the web enables all sorts of other biases – it lets us filter news, for instance, to confirm what we already believe – the use of the web as a vessel of transactive memory is mostly virtuous. We save hard drive space for what matters, while at the same time improving the accuracy of recall.

PS. If you’d like a contrarian take, here’s Nicholas Carr:

If a fact stored externally were the same as a memory of that fact stored in our mind, then the loss of internal memory wouldn’t much matter. But external storage and biological memory are not the same thing. When we form, or “consolidate,” a personal memory, we also form associations between that memory and other memories that are unique to ourselves and also indispensable to the development of deep, conceptual knowledge. The associations, moreover, continue to change with time, as we learn more and experience more. As Emerson understood, the essence of personal memory is not the discrete facts or experiences we store in our mind but “the cohesion” which ties all those facts and experiences together. What is the self but the unique pattern of that cohesion?”

Jonah Lehrer, American journalist who writes on the topics of psychology, neuroscience, Is Google Ruining Your Memory?,, July 15, 2011 (Illustration source)

See also:

☞ Amara D. Angelica, Google is destroying your memory, KurzweilAI
Thomas Metzinger on How Has The Internet Changed The Way You Think
Rolf Fobelli: News is to the mind what sugar is to the body, Lapidarium notes
Luciano Floridi on the future development of the information society
The Difference Between Online Knowledge and Truly Open Knowledge. In the era of the Internet facts are not bricks but networks
Memory tag on Lapidarium notes


The Filter Bubble: Eli Pariser on What the Internet Is Hiding From You 


"A “filter bubble”— “a unique universe of information for each of us”, meaning that we are less likely to encounter information online that challenges our existing views or sparks serendipitous connections. “A world constructed from the familiar is a world in which there’s nothing to learn,” Mr Pariser declares. He calls this “invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas”.The dangers of the internet: Invisible sieve, The Economist, Jun 30th 2011

"We’re used to thinking of the Internet like an enormous library, with services like Google providing a universal map. But that’s no longer really the case. Sites from Google and Facebook to Yahoo News and the New York Times are now increasingly personalized – based on your web history, they filter information to show you the stuff they think you want to see. That can be very different from what everyone else sees – or from what we need to see.

Your filter bubble is this unique, personal universe of information created just for you by this array of personalizing filters. It’s invisible and it’s becoming more and more difficult to escape. (…)

Q: What is the Internet hiding from me?

EP: As Google engineer Jonathan McPhie explained to me, it’s different for every person – and in fact, even Google doesn’t totally know how it plays out on an individual level. (…)

In one form or another, nearly every major website on the Internet is flirting with personalization. But the one that surprises people most is Google. If you and I Google the same thing at the same time, we may get very different results. Google tracks hundreds of “signals” about each of us – what kind of computer we’re on, what we’ve searched for in the past, even how long it takes us to decide what to click on – and uses it to customize our results. When the result is that our favorite pizza parlor shows up first when we Google pizza, it’s useful. But when the result is that we only see the information that is aligned with our religious or social or political beliefs, it’s difficult to maintain perspective. (…)

Research psychologists have known for a while that the media you consume shapes your identity. So when the media you consume is also shaped by your identity, you can slip into a weird feedback loop. A lot of people see a simple version of this on Facebook: You idly click on an old classmate, Facebook reads that as a friendship, and pretty soon you’re seeing every one of John or Sue’s posts.

Gone awry, personalization can create compulsive media – media targeted to appeal to your personal psychological weak spots. You can find yourself eating the equivalent of information junk food instead of having a more balanced information diet. (…)

Google’s Eric Schmidt recently said “It will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them,” rather than “Google is making it very hard…” Mark Zuckerberg perfectly summed up the tension in personalization when he said “A squirrel dying in your front yard may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.” But he refuses to engage with what that means at a societal level – especially for the people in Africa.”

Eli Pariser, the former Executive Director of, political activist, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You, The Penguin Press, 2011. 

A Filter Bubbles: ‘a static ever-narrowing version of yourself’

"We are beginning to live in what Eli Pariser calls “filter bubble,” personalized micro-universes of information that overemphasize what we want to hear and filter out what we don’t. Not only are we unaware of the information that is filtered out, but we are unaware that we are unaware. Our personal economies of information seem complete despite their deficiencies. Personal decisions contribute to this pattern, and ever more sophisticated technologies add to it. Google’s understanding of our tastes and interests is still a crude one, but it shapes the information that we find via Google searches. And because the information we are exposed to perpetually reshapes our interests, we can become trapped in feedback loops: Google’s perception of what we want to read shapes the information we receive, which in turn affects our interests and browsing behavior, providing Google with new information. The result, Pariser suggests, may be “a static ever-narrowing version of yourself.”

This self-reinforcement may have unhappy consequences for politics. Pariser, who is inspired by the philosophy of John Dewey, argues that ideological opponents need to agree on facts and understand each other’s point of view if democracy is to work well. Exposure to the other side allows for the creation of a healthy “public” that can organize around important public issues. Traditional media, in which editors choose stories they believe to be of public interest, have done this job better than do trivia-obsessed new media. Furthermore, intellectual cocooning may stifle creativity, which is spurred by the collision of different ways of thinking about the world. If we are not regularly confronted with surprising facts and points of view, we are less likely to come up with innovative solutions. (…)

When Pariser argues that the dissemination of information has political consequences, he is right. He is also persuasive in arguing that filter-bubble problems cannot be solved easily through individual action. When Pariser himself sought to broaden his ideological horizons through “friending” conservatives on Facebook, he found that Facebook systematically failed to include their updates in his main feed. Since he clicked on these links less often, Facebook inferred that he wasn’t interested in them and calibrated his information diet accordingly. As long as dominant businesses have incentives to give us what they think we want, individuals will have difficulty in breaking through the bubble on their own. The businesses aren’t wrong: Most people don’t enjoy having their basic preconceptions regularly challenged. They like their bubbles.”

Henry Farrell, Irish-born associate professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University, Bubble Trouble, The American Prospect, Aug 30, 2011

See also:

Interview with Eli Pariser “On The Media: “The Filter Bubble”
Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”,, Mar 2011

Network. What happens to the information we feed into the network (visualization)


The Rise of the Conversation Society: information, communication and collaboration

“No, sir. The Americans have need of the telephone – but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” — Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer Of The British Post Office, 1876

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” Herbert Simon, American political scientist, economist, sociologist, and psychologist (1916-2001)

The World Live in Your Living Room

"A century ago, there were still no modern media: no radio, no TV, no fancy avatars. Our world was much smaller. The dinner table was the most important medium. A family would sit around it, joined by neighbors and sometimes the minister or pastor. Discussions involved this or that, as well as gossip and scandal. The table was the medium, even in a literal sense, as it stood in the midst of a group. The content was us. We talked about our stories, experiences, things we felt to be important, and how they were all interconnected. (…)

The dinner table was the most prominent media location in most households for centuries. In the kitchen or dining room, we wrote letters, read the Bible or browsed through the newspaper. Homework was done, drawings made and later the radio was listened to. People chatted, played games and insofar as the dinner table served all these functions, it might even be said that it was the first multimedia, multi-user and multitasking environment. Even Me-Media would be appropriate, the only difference being that no one could tune in remotely. For larger manifestations, we had to go to the town hall, the pool hall or the market. The latter was the most prominent place for town criers, proclamations, trade, and enjoyment, as well as podiums and pillories.

Spanning distances with media was successfully accomplished for the first time during the French Revolution. Use was then made of the optical telegraph to make the world a smaller place. Using flags, sticks and semaphore, reports were transmitted, just as the American Indians worked with smoke signals. This form of messaging was much faster than sending a messenger on horseback. The first trans-Atlantic telegraph transmission only became a reality in 1866, using electrical equipment to send Morse code back and forth along an undersea cable. The Victorian Internet was born, but it certainly was not a mass medium comparable to radio, TV and later the real Internet. (p.126-7.) (…)

Recording and Playing Back

The well-known British composer Arthur Sullivan, whose “Lost Chord” is one of the first recorded pieces of music, spoke the following into the phonogram:

"Dear Mr. Edison,

If my friend Edmund Yates has been a little incoherent it is in consequence of the excellent dinner and good wines that he has drunk. Therefore I think you will excuse him. He has his lucid intervals. For myself, I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening’s experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record for ever. But all the same I think it is the most wonderful thing that I have ever experienced, and congratulate you with all my heart on this wonderful discovery.” — Arthur Sullivan (p.129-130)

The Obama Moment: From Conversation Economy to Conversation Society

                                                         (Click image to enlarge)

Clinton lost because Obama relied on a new model of politics powered by new technologies. For fundraising, he tapped into countless middle-class people who were able to use the Internet to donate small amounts that aggregated into huge sums. For organization, he skillfully used new technologies to reach vast numbers of party outsiders, i.e. ordinary people who could productively get involved in the campaign; not as spectators or occasional donors, but by rolling up their sleeves and doing work via a computer or on the ground. And as for media, Obama and his team mastered the new media better than any candidate yet. His videos went viral, his social networks hummed, his text messages really connected with people, particularly young people.” (p.105-106.) (…)

The Metaverse: Our New Virtual Universe

The principle meaning of the term “universe” is the cosmos, everything considered as a whole, both the very far and very near. It is therefore not just a term that describes distant heavens, but also the immediately accessible (everything around us); both the vastness of deep space and the “world of human experience” (Merriam-Webster). And it is this view of a proximate universe that you have to keep in mind when reading this chapter: the universe anchored in human experience.

In this context, the digital Metaverse (here a mashup of meta and universe) is a logical term describing a world beyond the immediacy of human reality. Intriguingly the Metaverse enriches our everyday universe, and thus transforms it into a new Virtu-Reality. (…) The purpose of the Metaverse is to digitally expand our physical reality, creating a new Virtu-Reality that adds socio-economic value to individuals and organizations. (…) (p.171.)

A hyperlinked identity within the Metaverse is called a Hyperego, regardless of whether it identifies an individual, brand, organization, and so on. Each identity will mostly consist of a number of subidentities. This segmentation is already discernible online. (p.174.) (…)

                                                         (Click image to enlarge)

In Snow Crash, the 1992 science fiction bestseller by Neal Stephenson, the Metaverse was 1.6 times as big as the real world. But the virtual economy may soon be over one and a half times as big as the physical one. (p. 202) (…)

The Development of Virtu-Real Media

“Virtual” is a collective qualifier for all uni-media or multimedia information that enriches our sensual contact with reality. But, by extension, virtual is also the characteristic of all information that is lacking from physical reality. When we, for example, call someone on the telephone, eye contact between conversing individuals is missing. From the vision perspective, telephone calls are therefore a virtual form of communication. Instant Messaging, or “chatting,” are a form of “texting,” no words being vocally uttered. Furthermore, the purely auditory nature of (traditional) phone conversations alters the focus of attention and fosters reflection, which often may be very positive. On the phone, we concentrate on the verbal subject and are not distracted by looks, gestures and postures of the other(s).

Virtuality therefore enriches the reality in which we exist, the envelope of everything around us. Real and virtual are two points on a single continuum, just like beautiful/ugly and healthy/sick. In fact, close inspection reveals that we are constantly physically and/or intellectually moving between the poles in this continuum in one way or another. Virtual-real is therefore not an “either…or” distinction but “both…and.” Every thought that we have, every image that we see, every song that we hear on the radio more or less all have virtual qualities. In each sensually limited stimulus (a person on TV cannot be smelled, touched or brought into immediate contact) there is media involved; each type of medium filters out a number of stimuli and focuses attention on others. (p. 248-9.) (…)

Metaverse media are designed to reach beyond Marshall McLuhans “Extensions of Man” status, instead being valued as an integral part of Real Life.

“Universal” Real Life is the origin, the reference point and the destination of all Metaverse virtuality. Their degree of being Sensory, Continuous and Physical determines the real-life experience we can have with such digital features and applications.”

(MMORPG - Massively multiplayer online role-playing game is a genre of role-playing video games in which a very large number of players interact with one another within a virtual game world.) (p.250)

Jaap Bloem, Menno van Doorn, Sander Duivestein, Me the Media. Rise of the Conversation Society, VINT, Research Institute of Sogeti, 2009

Collaboration in the Cloud

"Time itself has changed, or at least our perception of it. We are living in a 24/7 economy. (…) (p.3)

Compared to previous technological revolutions, there is one big discernible difference: current technology is causing various areas of knowledge to merge.

Figure 2.1 comes from the website of the Web Science Research Initiative, 2 set up by World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee. This organization aims to chart the ways in which the internet is changing our society, and it does so by examining how various fields of knowledge are unifying. (…)

One of the direct consequences of this evolving merger of knowledge is that we are rediscovering people, members of society with whom we lost touch long ago. Long before the industrial revolution, the farmer and the baker knew precisely what they might expect from each other. The farmer worked the land and the flour from his harvested grain ended up at the baker, who then baked the farmer’s bread. If the farmer were not satisfied with the taste of the bread, he would complain directly to the baker in order to have him modify the recipe. The interaction was an entirely simple form of collaboration based on direct communication.

The industrial revolution’s fascination with maximum efficiency made sure that people only worried about their own tasks and never, or seldom, got together to deal with all the types of problems on the work floor. The balance between technology and community was disturbed so that it tilted to the advantage of technology. (…) As a direct consequence of this change, people grew distant from one another. (p. 35-36) (…)

"Call them the “weapons of mass collaboration.” These changes, among others, are ushering us toward a world where knowledge, power and productive capability will be more dispersed than at any time in our history – a world where value creation will be fast, fluid and persistently disruptive. A world where only the connected will survive. A power shift is underway, and a tough new business rule is emerging: harness the new collaboration or perish.” Don Tapscott, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Portfolio, 2006


Figure 2.6 displays a number of diagrams representing the ways in which collaborations evolve:

Figure 2.6 makes it clear that two types of collaboration are dominant. The traditional hierarchical forms, such as those that came into vogue with the industrial revolution, and the network form which is now coming into use as a consequence of the emergence of the World Wide Web. In terms of time, we are currently in a transition phase in which companies are mostly adopting hybrid forms. (p.44.) (…)

Timeline of Communication Tools

                                                      (Click image to enlarge) (p.88)

"Now is the time to really move swiftly, to seize these new possibilities and to exploit them… Web 2.0 has to have a purpose. The purpose I would urge as many of you as can take it on, is to repair our relationship with this planet and the imminent danger we face." — Al Gore (p. 255)

Sander Duivestein, a senior analyst at VINT, the International Research Institute of Sogeti, Erik van Ommeren, responsible for VINT – the International Research Institute of Sogeti in the USA, John deVadoss, Clemens Reijnen, Collaboration in the Cloud - How Cross-Boundary Collaboration is Transforming Business (pdf), Microsoft and Sogeti, 2009.

See also:
Luciano Floridi on the future development of the information society
James Gleick: Bits and Bytes - How the language, information transformed humanity, (video), May, 19, 2011
Keen On… James Gleick: Why Cyberspace, As a Mode of Being, Will Never Go Away (TCTV), (video) TechCrunch, Jun 23, 2011
Timothy Leary on cybernetics and a new global culture
Cyberspace tag on Lapidarium
☞ The "Age of information" tag on Lapidarium


A story about the Semantic Web (Web 3.0)

J. Hebeler (0:02): “The core problem is, our ability to create information has far exceeded our ability to manage it. It’s kind of like we’re drowning in our richness, that’s kind of what’s happening, cause you have all this data, all these access points, and there’s really no way to really help you deal with it except for stuff you can pull into your human brain. (…)”

D. Weinberger (0:33): “We have so much stuff that we have to deal with. Individually, as a culture. So much – that it just bursts the bounds of any physical library. (…)”

C. Shirky (1:09): “The amount of media that’s available to the average user is a vastly much larger superset than anything that’s ever existed in human history. (…)”

(Interviews with: Tim Berners-Lee, Clay Shirky, Chris Dixon, David Weinberger, Nova Spivack, Jason Sgekkeb, Lee Feigenbaum, John Hebeler, Alon Halevy, David Karger, Abraham Bernstein.) Video made by Kate Ray. To see full transcript click here

Science related Wikipedian activity
This visualization explores the activity of science, math, and technology (SMT) related articles in the English language Wikipedia.
Blue, green, and yellow circles represent the 3,599 math, 6,474 science, and 3,164 technology related articles respectively. The larger the size of a circle the higher the likelihood it is that type of article. Exactly 8,181 articles are in one category, 2,348 in two, and 73 in three categories leading to interesting color mixtures. The four corners show smaller versions of the map with articles size coded according to article edit activity (top left), number of major edits from January 1st, 2007 to April 6th, 2007 (top right), number of bursts in edit activity (bottom right) and indegree, e.g., the number of times other articles link to an article (bottom left). These visualizations serve to highlight current trends and predict future editing activity and growth in science, technology, and mathematics related Wikipedia articles — Source: Science Related Wikipedian Activity

Science related Wikipedian activity

This visualization explores the activity of science, math, and technology (SMT) related articles in the English language Wikipedia.

Blue, green, and yellow circles represent the 3,599 math, 6,474 science, and 3,164 technology related articles respectively. The larger the size of a circle the higher the likelihood it is that type of article. Exactly 8,181 articles are in one category, 2,348 in two, and 73 in three categories leading to interesting color mixtures. The four corners show smaller versions of the map with articles size coded according to article edit activity (top left), number of major edits from January 1st, 2007 to April 6th, 2007 (top right), number of bursts in edit activity (bottom right) and indegree, e.g., the number of times other articles link to an article (bottom left). These visualizations serve to highlight current trends and predict future editing activity and growth in science, technology, and mathematics related Wikipedia articles — Source: Science Related Wikipedian Activity

Gonkar Gyatso, The Shambala of Modern Times, 2008
"Having lived in Tibet, China, India and the West, Gyatso’s art proposes insightful statements on cultural hybridity of globalization as well as the sea change of the world yet to come."- artist bio

Gonkar Gyatso, The Shambala of Modern Times, 2008

"Having lived in Tibet, China, India and the West, Gyatso’s art proposes insightful statements on cultural hybridity of globalization as well as the sea change of the world yet to come."- artist bio