The River of Information

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The metaphor of information as a flowing stream has been with us for a long time and seems as powerful as ever.

The other day I read this, by Steven Levy in the May 2014 issue of Wired magazine (p. 104 for my fellow printoholics):

“Ever since Twitter and Facebook debuted their feeds in 2006, the model of continually streaming updates has come to define how we consume information. We’ve grown accustomed to a world in which data flows by us, letting us dip into the stream whenever, wherever, and however we want.”

Levy’s words put me in mind of another passage, written exactly 100 years before by John Cotton Dana (Special Libraries, May 1914, p. 73):

“The proper view of printed things is, that the stream thereof need not be anywhere completely stored behind the dykes and dams formed by the shelves of any library or of any group of libraries: but that from that stream as it rushes by expert observers should select what is pertinent each to his own constituency, hold it as long as it continues to have value to those for whom he selects it, make it easily accessible by some simple process, and then let it go.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. And the river keeps on flowing.

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