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ERIC Number: ED528122
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 521
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 0
ISBN: ISBN-978-1-1245-9461-3
The Public Life of Information
Rowe, Josh
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, Princeton University
The mid-twentieth century marked a shift in Americans' fundamental orientation toward information. Rather than news or knowledge, information became a disembodied quantum--strings of ones and zeros processed, increasingly, by complex machines. This dissertation examines how Americans became acquainted with "information", as newly conceived by science. Through the press, through mass culture (in particular, the genre of science fiction), and through the tireless evangelism of a group of self-styled visionaries, Americans encountered a new cultural icon, the computer. The "electric brain" of the 1940s and '50s promised to revolutionize the way information was handled by scientists, businessmen, and economic planners. Like the atom bomb, the computer inspired equal measures of awe and fear; information-processing machines were faster, more reliable, and potentially "smarter" than their organic peers. At midcentury, computer automation was rapidly spread through the American economy; many wondered if human workers (skilled and unskilled alike) would find themselves obsolete relics of a bygone industrial age? I discover that the initial alarmism gave way in the 1960s to a reimagining of the computer and its user as a mutual, cybernetic feedback system that would simultaneously improve productivity, creativity, and workers' wages. In this way, a more humanistic generation of information science "ambassadors" smoothed the computer's acceptance in American society. The computer was thus reconfigured as a user-friendly communication device that anyone, given adequate training, could employ in their work and daily lives. At the same time, human brains came to be viewed through a new prism--as soft machines excelling at the generation of ideas. The human computer, in interface with its silicon cousins, would think in more powerful ways than ever. I track the emergence of a new consensus through popular media and identify its most important exponents. The story of this idea, told through a series of reticulating biographies, helps illuminate Americans' engagement with technology, with the future, and with the nature of thought itself. [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
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Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A