This is not that exciting an essay. I’m just writing this to get an idea out there. Feel free to skip it today if you want; I won’t be hurt.
Back in 1999, I read an article in which assorted famous people discussed the most important development or invention of the twentieth century. There were, of course, a myriad of answers, and I don’t remember too many of them. One was mass production; another, proposed by Hugh Hefner, of course, was the creation of Viagra.
This got me thinking: what do I think was the greatest development of the past century, one which has had a profound impact on this one? Though I know that there are many of them, I propose, having worked in libraries for as long as I have, that it is this: the storage, duplication, and transmission of information.
There are always three things to think about when you have a piece of information: you have to put it somewhere, you often want to make a copy of it, and you want to get it somewhere else. This used to take up space, and take up time. Now it’a possible to do it instantly.
Because so many of these developments have often involved subtle things in our everyday lives, such as the way we send notes to people or just put something away for later use, we take them for granted. Yet it’s added up, and when we look back just a few years, it becomes a huge thing. Not too long ago, a photograph took forever to duplicate and send to someone else; now it’s something we can do instantaneously.
There are certain memories I have as these developments evolved. I vividly remember a picture, after the advent of the CD-ROM, of Bill Gates perched on a stack of papers as tall as a tree, holding a single CD ROM. One megabyte, I once calculated, worked out to about two reams of typed, double spaced paper, which meant that a 650 megabyte disk worked out to about 1,300 reams. 1,300 reams of paper, at about 2 1/2 inches per ream, worked out to about 3,250 inches, or a little more than 260 feet of paper, which was just about right for that picture.
Consider what it was, not too long ago, to store this, duplicate it, and send it to someone else. It would take forever. Now someone can do it in an instant.
And that was just letters. Soon after, as the basic unit of storage moved from kilobytes to megabytes to gigabytes to terabytes, to, perhaps, a petabyte, photos and video followed suit. Not only that, but as bandwidth increased, it took less and less time to send these massive things to someone else. And, of course, because it was so easy to make copies of them, it was possible to send them to an infinite number of people.
Virtually every issue involving the spread of misinformation and the darker components of social media has to do with the development of these three things. And at the same time, the assorted developments that may be our salvation—the spread of online courses and intelligent blogs, for example—all directly connect to these developments. To someone who’s spent his life dealing in information, it’s an enormous evolution.
So nothing particularly snappy or witty today. Just an observation to think about. With that said, store, copy, and distribute this as you see fit.