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The Information Age


According to the famous Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, information is "knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance." Humans and other living creatures have shared information as an essential survival tool.

The means of conveying symbolic (e.g. writing, math, other codes) information among humans has evolved with increasing speed, as summarized by the following Jays Roman History timeline:

Daguerrotype photography invented. Wax cylinder phonograph invented by Thomas Edison. Alexander Graham Bell invents first practical telephone. Bell Telephone scientists invent the transistor. ARPANET (Internet precursor) developed by Department of Defense. Apple begins delivery of Apple II computer. Power PC chip enables more compact, faster executing code.
Date Event
3000 B.C. Sumerian writing system uses pictographs to represent words.
2900 Beginnings of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing.
1300 Tortoise shell and oracle bone writing.
500 Papyrus roll.
220 Chinese small seal writing developed.
100 A.D. Book (parchment codex).
105 Wood-block printing and paper is invented by the Chinese.
1455 Johann Gutenberg invents printing press using movable metal type.
1755 Samuel Johnson's dictionary standardizes English spelling.
1802 The Library of Congress is established. Invention of the carbon arc lamp.
1824 Research on persistence of vision published.
1830s First viable design for a digital computer. Augusta Lady Byron writes world's first computer program.
1837 Invention of telegraph in Great Britain and the United States.
1861 Motion pictures projected onto a screen.
1876 Dewey Decimal system introduced.
1877 Edweard Muybridge demonstrates high-speed photography.
1899 First magnetic recordings.
20th Century
1902 Motion picture special effects.
1906 Lee DeForest invents electronic amplifying tube (triode).
1923 Television camera tube invented by Zvorkyn.
1926 First practical sound movie.
1939 Regularly scheduled television broadcasting begins in the U.S.
1940s Beginnings of information science as a discipline.
1945 Vannevar Bush foresees the invention of hypertext.
1946 ENIAC computer developed.
1948 Birth of field-of-information theory proposed by Claude E. Shannon.
1957 Planar transistor developed by Jean Hoerni.
1958 First integrated circuit.
1960s Library of Congress develops LC MARC (machine readable code).
1969 UNIX operating system developed, which could handle multitasking.
1971 Intel introduces first microprocessor chip.
1972 Optical laserdisc developed by Philips and MCA.
1974 MCA and Philips agree on standard videodisc encoding format.
1975 Altair Microcomputer Kit: first personal computer for the public.
1977 RadioShack introduces first complete personal computer.
1984 Apple MacIntosh computer introduced.
Mid-'80s Artificial intelligence separates from information science.
1987 Hypercard developed by Bill Atkinson recipe box metaphor.
1991 Four hundred fifty complete works of literature on one CD-ROM.
Jan. 1997 RSA (Encryption and network security software) Internet security code cracked for a 48-bit number.

The Information Age in its infancy

WordNet defines the Information Age as a "period beginning in the last quarter of the 20th century when information became easily accessible through publications and through the manipulation of information by computers and computer networks."

en Wiktionary terms it as "The current era, characterized by the increasing importance and availability of information - especially by means of computers - as opposed to previous eras - such as the Industrial Age - in which most endeavors related to some physical process or product."

According to John Waters, design director, Waters International, Inc.,

"There was a time when information was precious, when news was important. We collected and stored the facts in our heads. But something began to happen around the middle of the last century. Information got ahead of us. It started to grow at a rate we were unprepared to handle. Throughout the sixties and seventies information abundance made collecting and recalling more selective and more difficult. During the eighties, real angst set in. We suffered from 'Information Anxiety,' as Richard Wurman explained in his classic book by the same name. In the nineties, information became the currency of business — the preferred medium of exchange, and the information managers became information officers. Today ... this currency has become a commodity, another mass-produced, unspecialized, overdeveloped product. And we are nearly drowning in it."

Sizing up the Information Age

The following is a sampler from an article by Robert Harris, "Truths of the Information Age".

1. The information industry is built on a certain quantity of information flow. Whatever the medium - newspapers, TV news, book publishing, websites - the space must still be filled with whatever is available.

2. Information must compete. A need exists for information to stand out and be recognized in the increasing clutter, the data smog, that surrounds us.

3. The early word gets the perm. The first media outlet to cover an issue often defines the terms, context, and attitudes surrounding it.

4. The frame makes the painting. If an issue is framed as a battle between tolerance and bigotry, then whatever side is the tolerant one will be preferred.

5. Selection is a viewpoint. If you want to receive a more-balanced view of reality, choose multiple sources for your information.

6. Newer is equated with truer. We have lost the sense that any fact or value can endure.

7. The media sell what the culture buys. In other words, information is shaped by cultural priorities.

8. You are what you eat and so is your brain. If certain ideas are never presented to you, you cannot draw adequate conclusions.

9. All ideas are seen as controversial. It is probably impossible to make any assertion that will not find some supporters and some detractors.

10. Anything in great demand will be counterfeited. The demand for amazing knowledge, secrets, and scandals is ever present, and hence many events are fabricated by the tabloids, publicists, or other agents of information fraud.

11. Undead information walks ever on. Lies, hoaxes, misinformation, rumors, disinformation, and garbled truth never really pass away. They continue to circulate.

12. To accuse is to convict, and possibility is proof. Many people believe that no accusation would be made without any basis, so that if an accusation is made, it must be true, at least in part.

13. The medium selects the message. Television is mostly pictorial, partly aural, and very little textual, so visual stories are emphasized: fires, chases, disasters.

14. Media presence creates the story. When the media are present, especially film news or television media, people behave much differently from the way they would if not being filmed.

15. Yours is not to reason why. Yours is to buy and buy.. As a commercial product, information is subject to the same treatment as other consumer goods - packaging, marketing, competition, positioning, and hyping.

16. The whole truth is a pursuit. The information we receive comes to us filtered, selected, slanted, verbally charged, and sometimes fabricated. What is left out is often even more important than what is included.

The purposes and basic parts of a computer

A computer is an electronic device that stores and processes data (information). It runs on a program that contains the exact, step-by-step directions to solve a problem. A hard drive stores data. A central processing unit (CPU) contains the circuitry necessary to understand and carry out program directions. A microprocessor is a small, integrated circuit that performs all the functions of a CPU. A modem enables the transmission of data to or from a computer.

Computer types

­­Numerous terms describe computers. Most suggest the dimensions, intended use, or the computer's power. While the term computer can apply to virtually any device that has a microprocessor in it, most people think of a computer as a device that receives input from the user through a mouse (hand-guided directions tool) or keyboard, processes it in some fashion and presents the result on a screen.

A personal computer (PC) is a single-user instrument. While the famous Apple Mac is a PC, most people relate the term to systems that run the Microsoft Windows operating system. PCs were first known as microcomputers because they were a complete computer, but built on a smaller scale than the monster systems operated by most businesses. A PC is Everyman's access tool to the Information Age.*

­­­­A PC that is not designed for portability is a desktop. The assumption with a desktop is that it will be set up in a permanent spot. A workstation is simply a desktop computer that has a more powerful processor, additional memory, and enhanced capabilities for performing a special group of tasks, such as 3D graphics or game development. Most desktops offer more storage, power, and versatility than their portable counterparts.

­Laptops, a.k.a. notebooks, are portables that integrate the essentials of a desktop in a battery-powered package somewhat larger than a typical hardcover book.

­Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) are tightly integrated computers that usually do not have keyboards but rely on a touchscreen for user input. PDAs are typically smaller than a paperback, light-weight, and battery powered.

A server is a computer that has been beefed up to provide network services to other computers. Servers usually boast powerful processors, tons of memory, and large hard drives.

In the early days of computing, mainframes could fill an entire room or even a floor of rooms. As computers have grown smaller and power has increased, the term mainframe has largely been replaced by enterprise server. The former term is still used, especially by large firms, to describe the huge machines that process millions of transactions every day, hour, minute, or second. This type of computer typically costs millions of dollars. Although some supercomputers are single computer systems, most comprise multiple, high-performance, parallel computers working as a single system.

Wearable computers are integrated into cell phones, watches, and other small objects or places. They perform such common computer applications as databases, e-mail, multimedia, and schedulers.

In 1977, Dennis C. Hayes and Dale Heatherington developed the PC modem, then launched the technology that encouraged today's online and Internet industries to rise and flourish. They marketed initial Hayes modem products to computer aficionados in April 1977, then created D.C. Hayes Associates, Inc., known today as Hayes Corp., in January 1978. Hayes quality standards and inventiveness yielded performance upgrades and cost cutting that led the industry's conversion from leased-line modems to smart-dial modems: the PC Modem.

The Worldwide Web (Internet): a global data nervous system

The Internet is a worldwide system of interconnected networks that facilitate data transmission among innumerable computers.

Search engines: the Internet's data hunters

A search engine is a program that acts as a (prompted) self-searching card catalog for the Internet, a directory of Internet content.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, directors of a Stanford research project, developed a search engine that listed results to reflect page popularity, when they determined that the most-popular result would frequently be the most usable. After talking family, friends, and other investors into contributing $1 million, the researchers launched their company in 1998. Google is now the planet’s most popular search engine, accepting more than 200 million queries daily.

Criteria to evaluate Web resources

1. Authority: Who is responsible for the website on which the web page resides? What is the website author's background?

2. Link checking: Most search engines allow you to type the URL (entry code) of the page you’re browsing to find out what other sites link to the one you’re examining. This can help you determine how well thought of a site is.

3. Purpose and objectivity: Why has this information been posted, and how impartial is it?

4. Content and coverage: How comprehensive is the web site? How accurate is the page content? Are references or bibliographies posted on the page?

5. Currency: How up-to-date is the information?

6. Types of web pages: Advocacy, influencing public opinion; business, promoting or selling products or services; entertainment, providing amusement and enjoyment; informational, providing such factual information as census data, research reports, or a calendar of events; and personal, an open category that may feature a hobby or favorite activity. Source

Ink on paper: A casualty of the Information Age?

Although newspapers, magazines, books, and other publication types are still produced in the Information Age, the 21st century may see them marginalized. For example, the Amazon Kindle combines an inkless, paperless reading surface with a growable library capacity in one handheld device. Apple's answer? The Ipad. No doubt there are more to come.

Radio and television will continue to be ubiquitous players in this century, but they will not remotely resemble their plug-in forebears.

The future of the Information Age

We can reasonably expect accelerating change, especially in the areas of mobile gadgets, device capacity and applications, speed, and miniaturization. Biology will increasingly incorporate assistive technology. "Fasten your seat belts, said actress Bette Davis, "it's going to be a bumpy night."

*Two Steves, Jobs and Wozniak, created the Apple I kit computer in 1976. Enthusiasts purchased the inner works and assembled their own housings. Such giants in mainline computer production as IBM and Digital were unconvinced that personal computers were powerful enough to score a market niche. Apple I and other PCs to follow decisively proved otherwise.