IS 200 Information in Society

Preparation for the Discussion Groups in Week Two, October 9

  1. Read the set course readings present in the book of course readings. You will have to follow up the Borgmann reference at;
  2. and you can get something about the O’Donnell book at

    If you can get hold of this book (or Borgmann’s book From Gutenberg to the Global Information Infrastructure) it’s well worth looking at them both.

  3. Sometimes a useful way to review developments is to try to compile a list of critical dates. Assume that YOU have to organise a small exhibition arount the theme of the development of modern media of communication, and therefore have to come up with a list of fifteen significant dates in the history of communication.
  4. What will your chosen dates be? (You should also try to establish what the dates actually are, though of course in dealing with ancient times it may mean an approximation such as ‘about 5000 BC’ or ‘between 300 and 500 AD’)

  5. Even though you may not be able to get hold of O’Donnell’s book, and the passages quoted below lose a lot of their contextual value here, consider and be ready to discuss these comments of his:

[On scholarly publishing of books, pp. 58-9]

The reigning monarch of scholarly publication, however—the eminent monograph from a distinguished press—is in serious jeopardy. The traditional monograph, with its sustained linear argument, its extraordinarily high costs of publicatiom and distribution, and its numerous inefficiencies of access, is beginning to look more and more like a great lumbering dinosaur.

This is not to say that the traditional scholarly book will disappear overnight, but surely its presence will fade. It will survive rather way the leather bound edition of the classics now survives, not so much to be read but to make a statement about the book and about the owner of the book.

[on searching, p. 61]

Consider the difference between using Library of Congress subject headings for a subject search in an electronic catalog and pursuit of the same enquiry using keywords. In a world in which the library will cease to be a warehouse and becomes instead a software system, the value of the institution will lie in the sophistication, versatility, and power of its indexing and searching capacities. We need not wait for the possibilities of artificial intelligence to manifest themselves in order to take advantage of intellectually simpler but nonetheless powerful systems of investigation that can lead us through a mass of material to information that suits our needs.

The secret is that the end-user’s intelligence remains a powerful tool. If a system leads me only close to the information I am looking for, I will recognise it and begin processing it in ways that no machine could….

[quoting the New York Times, 5/26/94, p. 71] BOOKS ARE FOREVER, SAYS AUTHOR: Fiction Pulitzer Prize winner E.Annie Proulx says ther information highway is "for bulletin boards on esoteric subjects, reference works, lists and news—timely utilitarian information, efficiently pulled through the wires. Nobody is ever going to sit down and read a novel on a twitchy little screen. Ever."

[what it’s all about, p.91]

We long ago ceased to see the oddity of textuality and its institutions: publishers who produce books, librarians who treasure and make them available, scholars who pass on the mystic arts of interpretation to students. Is it not strange that we take the spoken word, the most insubstantial of human creations, and try to freeze it forever? Or try to give the frozen words of those who are dead and gone, or at the least far absent, control over our own experience of the lived here and now?

Cultural continuity resides in memory, which is to say, in the keeping in mind of that which does not exist any longer. That is an extraordinary way to be human…..