Electricity and Ethnicity in The Information

In James Gleick’s, “The Information,” various aspects of technology are discussed in relation to the humanities as this has changed from the past into what can be observed in modern day. Chapter 5 of the book depicts the Earth having a nervous system as is indicated by the chapter’s title, “A Nervous System for the Earth.” One focus of this chapter is the concept of electricity and how each new technological discovery develops: “The analogy linked one perplexing phenomenon with another. Electricity was an enigma wrapped in mystery verging on magic, and no one understood nerves, either. Nerves were at least known to conduct a form of electricity and thus, perhaps, to serve as conduits for the brain’s control of the body” (Gleick 126). Gleick’s comparison of one of the most important function of the body to the capabilities of electricity is a concept to consider as both relate to the daily lives of humans everywhere. Our bodies have such advanced ways of carrying out their many functions, just as technology contributes to the ways humanity interacts and changes over time.

Although the concept of humanities can relate to a broad range of different ideas, there are some that directly relate to computation and the increase in development of humanistic principles and morals. One question that may arise in the process of reading a book like “The Information” is whether or not the tools we create as developing humans change who we are. It is potential that new discoveries and developments have altered the values and morals that humans have collectively. Each culture that humans belong to has different aspects, but most of the world has quickly adapted to new technologies as they have come into play. New technologies also have the potential to dictate the interests held by different generations and groups of people. For example, in today’s world humans are consumed by cell phones and social media platforms. Though this greatly enhances the way humans communicate, it simultaneously takes away from face-to-face interaction and how genuine a conversation has the potential to be.

The effects of electricity and communication being related are also portrayed through the sense of nature: “But lightning did not say anythingーit dazzled, crackled, and burned, but to convey a message would require some ingenuity. In human hands, electricity could hardly accomplish anything, at first. It could not make a light brighter than a spark. It was silent. But it could be sent along wires to great distancesーthis was discovered earlyーand it seemed to turn wires into faint magnets. Those wires could be long: no one had found any limit to the range of electric current. It took no time at all to see what this meant for the ancient dream of long-distance communication” (128). Gleick makes the point that a natural phenomena such as lightning could not make a significant technological impact on its own, but through the involvement and work of humans, electricity would eventually lead to the creation of an essential advancement for the ability of mankind to grow. People are able to share their thoughts and ideas as far as they could possibly travel.

An important and undermined idea to consider when it comes to the effects of technology and its contribution to communication is how this can change the way literature from different cultures is preserved and continues to be shared. African scholar Isidore Okpewho advocates for this idea in his writing of “African Oral Literature: Backgrounds, Character, and Continuity.” In this book he discusses the importance of dismantling preconceived notions about the intelligence of “primitive” cultures in terms of oral storytelling. He expresses how oral literature provides a new perspective of the culture to individuals who are not aware through an engaging manner as opposed to other works of literature. Okpewho portrays how improper methods of collecting pieces of African oral literature has caused stylist merits to be lost. Overall, he encourages readers to keep an open mind when it comes to oral literature and the importance of being okay with things that are uncomfortable and new, outside of what we are used to reading. That is the only way to truly understand and appreciate the complex nature of African oral storytelling. If done correctly, it has the ability to add a voice to characters that standard Eurocentric literature cannot successfully portray. As a result, the history of past cultures can be preserved and shared with current and future generations as there are many important values to be considered that are still relevant to our world today. Humankind can improve their overall functioning and quality of life through the many benefits that are associated between technology and communication as this helps us communicate both old and new ideas among various ethnicities, continuously growing within our diverse societies.

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