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Overload!: How Too Much Information is Hazardous to Your Organization by Jonathan B. Spira

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CHAPTER 2

HISTORY OF INFORMATION

Is there anywhere on earth exempt from these swarms of new books?

—Erasmus

Today’s information glut is not an accident; rather, it is the culmination of a long series of technological and societal advances.

We now have more information available to us than we know what to do with; it is interesting, however, to think back and not only imagine a world without it but ponder how what we call information came into being.

Information has existed in a nonphysical sense ever since humans began communicating with each other. Information was passed orally, through simple observations (“The saber-toothed tiger will eat you. Run quickly.”) and stories, some of which eventually became myths and legends.

Orally communicated information was of a temporal nature. If one was not there to hear a story, one could not simply look it up and access it. In order to spread, it had to be passed in full from one person to the next, and there was no way to verify the validity of a story or its adherence to the original narrative.

The advent of writing catapulted information from the nonphysical to physical planes, and first took the form of clay tokens used as counting aids as early as 8000 BCE in Mesopotamia. The system eventually became cuneiform (“wedge shaped,” from the Latin cuneus, meaning “wedge”), recognized as perhaps the earliest writing form developed.

The clay tokens were marked with symbols and used to keep track of items, and eventually they were stored in ...

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