Information overload, a history

Monday, November 29, 2010

Think information overload is unique to the age of the internet? Actually, says Harvard history professor Ann Blair, people have been worrying about it since Gutenberg invented the printing press. And scholars weren't just worried about the sheer volume of books being made available for consumption, but by greedy printers churning out volume after volume with no concern for quality:

[A]round 1500, humanist scholars began to bemoan new problems: Printers in search of profit, they complained, rushed to print manuscripts without attention to the quality of the text, and the sheer mass of new books was distracting readers from the focus on the ancient authors most worthy of attention. Printers "fill the world with pamphlets and books that are foolish, ignorant, malignant, libelous, mad, impious and subversive; and such is the flood that even things that might have done some good lose all their goodness," wrote Erasmus in the early 16th century, in the kind of tirade that might seem familiar to anyone exhausted by what they find online today.

Sound familiar?