Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Two Awesome Books

It's been a few days since I did my first post --- getting into the habit of being more regular is going to be difficult!

Actually, I was rereading two highly original, excellent books, that are both strangely enough, out of print ! (Note, however, that used copies are available easily online or from libraries.) They are both trying to deal with the problem of how people deal with information, and I think that they share the underlying goal of shedding some light on how to increase grokrate. One of them, Information Anxiety by Richard Saul Wurman is a "how to" book, and the other, Silicon Dreams by Robert Lucky is a "how come" book. Both are written for a general audience, although Silicon Dreams has a few equations here and there.

Both authors are successful practitoners. Wurman is the creator and designer of the ACCESS travel books, and so brings this designer perspective to the problem. He has a seemingly endless number of interesting things to say about how information should be organized and communicated in order to be quickly groked. Lucky is an engineer (he invented something important called adaptive equalizers and is a Bell Labs veteran), and spent his intellectually formative years studying information theory. So his focus is almost exclusively on how to define and measure the amount of information in something. He talks about the fact that while multimedia takes thousands of times more bits to send than text (even when it is efficiently compressed), it does not appear to contain that much more meaningful information. He also hypothesizes that our grokrate (although obviously he does not call it that) is roughly 50b/s, a pitifully small number!

If you have any interest in understanding how people absorb information and what limits the rate at which it can be done, I strongly recommend that you check these books out. Even though they are ten years old, they are quite amazingly current.

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