Lift12, Technology vs. People: Anaïs Saint-Jude, From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg [en]

[fr] Je suis à la conférence Lift12 à Genève ces prochains jours. Voici mes notes de sessions.

Live-blogging from Lift12 conference in Geneva. These are my notes and interpretations of  Anaïs Saint-Jude‘s talk — best effort, but might be imprecise or even wrong!

Anaïs Saint-Jude

Robert Musil. Unfinished book upon his death.

Overload? The feeling is not new. Early 20th century already… what about before? Actually, since ancient times. What’s interesting is that it is always experienced as something new and particular to one’s own era.

Plato in Phaedrus: if we depend on writing, we will lose the ability to remember. Ecclesiastes, Seneca, Descartes, Diderot… They all bemoaned the uselessness and overload created by writing or books, things we consider “normal” today — but sometimes same criticism as what we see today for our new technologies.

Diderot: driving itch for the Encyclopédie!

How many books can we read? 4680 in a lifetime (a book a week all your life).

We aren’t the first to experience information overload. It’s part of the human condition.

We always perceive our environment as overly complex.

Let’s look at early modern period information overload. 16th-17th century. Similarities with today.

  • copernican revolution
  • discovery of the New World
  • recovery of ancient texts
  • printing press
  • correspondance networks

Instead of being perceived as something negative, information overload can perceive it as a driving force for new innovations.

Théophraste Renaudot (1585-1653) was a doctor. Identified a need => 2 innovations:

  • Conferences (1633-1642)
  • Gazette (1631-1915 first French weekly newspaper!)

He was making use of the established correspondance networks for news distribution. It’s wrong to say “social networks have just started”…

16th-17th century, the merchant network started to shift to an intellectual correspondance network, centered on France rather than Venice. Forefathers and mothers of our blogs and tweets…

Similar issues as what we see with tweets today: sparking distress, sources are more or less reliable, etc…

Correspondance networks created social groups, collected and diffused information, created public opinion, were and instrument of cultural change, and illiterate people participated as the news was then passed on orally. steph-note: see the parallels?

Athanasius Kircher (1602) — had about 760 correspondants, mainly scientists, all over the world. Voltaire’s correspondance map is also impressive (though, note, most of them are between Geneva and Paris. Not only for people far away, but also people close by.)

Information overload has always existed and is part of the human condition, generative force for innovation. Correspondance networks are not new either, they use the tools of their time.

Le lever de Voltaire by Jean Hubert: painting, you see Voltaire barely getting dressed and already dictating a letter — we’re not the first to check our e-mails first thing in the morning!

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