In his new book The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, author James Gleick chronicles our current inundation with data, and the technologies making that possible. His research finds that up until the 1950s, we didn’t fully understand how information worked, or its effects on our bodies and minds.
From an interview with Wired:
“Information is crucial to our biological substance—our genetic code is information. But before 1950, it was not obvious that inheritance had anything to do with code. And it was only after the invention of the telegraph that we understood that our nerves carry messages, just like wires. When we look back through history, we can see that a lot of different stories all turn out to be stories about information.”
With the understanding that information carries specific, tangible qualities, requiring a material base for its transmission, Gleik suggests that the universe we know consists only of information, and it has been that way for a long time.
“Scientifically, information is a choice—a yes-or-no choice. In a broader sense, information is everything that informs our world—writing, painting, music, money … Information is the thing that we care most about. The more we understand the role that information plays in our world, the more skillful citizens we will be.”