Technological Advances and Their World-Wide Influences

(exploding access to information has changed global societies)

Today, we live in an age of exploding access to information, awash in what designer Richard Saul Wurman calls a "tsunami of data."

Human beings now produce more than five exabytes worth of recorded information per year: documents, e-mail messages, television shows, radio broadcasts, web pages, medical records, spreadsheets, presentations, and books.

Exabytes equal: 5,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes or 5,000,000,000,000 megabytes which is 50,000 times the number of words stored in the Library of Congress, or more than the total number of words ever spoken by human beings.

Seventy-five percent of that information is digital. Most of it will soon disappear. Amid this welter of bits, perhaps some of us worry, like Plato's King Thamus, whether our dependence on the written record will weaken our characters and create forgefulnes in our souls.

As the proliferation of digital media accelerates, we are witnessing profound social, cultural, and political transformations whose long-term outcome we cannot begin to foresee.

Long-Established Institutional Knowledge Systems like Library Catalogs are Fast Becoming Anachronisms (out of date) in the Age of Web Search Engines

Where networked systems take root, it seems, they disrupt the old hierarchical systems that preceded them.

A hierarchy is a system of nested groups; for example, an organization chart is a kind of hierarchy, in which employees are grouped into departments, which in turn are grouped into higher-level organizational units, etc.

Other kinds of hierarchies include government bureaucracies, biological taxonomies, or a system of menus in a software application.

A network, by contrast to hierarchies, emerges from the bottom up; individuals function as autonomous nodes, negotiating their own relationships, forging ties, coalescing into clusters.

There is no "top" in a network; each node is eqaual and self-directed. Democracy is a kind of network; so is a flock of birds, or the World Wide Web.

Networks and hierarchies are not mutually exclusive; indeed, they usually coexist.

We might, for example, work for a company with a formal organization chart; at the same time, we probably also maintain a personal network of colleagues that has no explicit representation in the formal organization; that is, a network within a hierarchy.

—Excerpted and compiled from
"Networks and Hierarchies", of GLUT, Mastering Information Through the Ages;
by Alex Wright; Joseph Henry Press; 2007, pages 5-16.

All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.
—Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

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