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The Modern Invention of Information: Discourse, History, and Power

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If we look in the Oxford English Dictionary under the term “information,” we will be struck by the impression that its use as a substantive, as a synonym for fact or for knowledge, is relatively new. Until very recently, “information” had the sense of imparting knowledge (in the sense of telling someone something) or of giving sensory knowledge (in the way that our senses inform us of some event). For us late moderns, however, information has now become a thing, and not only that but also an economically valuable thing. Why is this so, how did it come to happen, and what are its consequences, particularly now, in the so-called information age? How did we arrive at this reified and commodified notion of knowledge or of becoming informed? And what have we forgotten in this historical process?

This book is about vocabulary and its role in constructing and producing history. In particular, this book is concerned with the social production and history of the term “information”: how the term and its connotations became an important social and epistemic value for Western society of the twentieth century and how that evaluation came (and comes) to construct a historical future that we all must live with into the twenty-first century. This book, however, is also about those critical elements of historical agency that attempted to speak about information and communication technologies in some other manner than a determined future. This book not only tells of three information ages but also attempts to recover different, riskier historical engagements with information culture and ideology such as occurred in Europe in the late 1930s.
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