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A miraculous new invention connected people around the world with a speed and immediacy few had dreamed of, but many feared this newfangled thing would cut people off from society, destroy interpersonal relations and spell the death of newspapers.

A miraculous new invention connected people around the world with a speed and immediacy few had dreamed of, but many feared this newfangled thing would cut people off from society, destroy interpersonal relations and spell the death of newspapers.

Who said anything about the Internet? This panic greeted the invention of the telegraph nearly 200 years ago. “The telegraph really was transformative in a way that can’t help but remind you of what’s happening today,” says James Gleick, author of “The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood.” “It changed the way people think about their world.”

“The Information” is a dense and fascinating history of many such revolutions in thought, from African talking drums to genomics and Google. It’s a chronicle of the Information Age that makes clear that each new innovation is greeted with very similar fears — Plato thought the written word would destroy the faculty of memory.

“Of course what’s happening today is different,” Gleick says. “The world is connected in a way unlike anything in the past. However, it’s always sobering and healthy to notice what people said about their own technologies back to ancient times. Everything that happens today is new, but it’s also in one way or another something that humanity has seen before.”

 
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