Friday, May 24, 2013


Once, when I annoyed someone because I knew the correct answer on a quickie quiz, they muttered “know it all!” Well, I do have a lot of relatively useless trivia – such as where we get the concept of trivia – stored in my (alleged) mind. But it’s been said that if you knew it all you’d go crazy.

Just think of all there is to know – everything from the exact amount of pi* to the last time your neighbor went to the bathroom; the bloom time of every daffodil to the time of the next eclipse; the function of the microorganisms in your body to what is in the center of a black hole. There is too much to know.


Recently I read an article in Foreign Affairs on The Rise of Big Data. The article says that if all the available information today were put on CDs there would be five piles of them reaching up to the moon. TMI, TMI. Even knowing that TMI means Too Much Information is TMI. Like spiders, they are saving everything that hits the web, from learned essays to the latest tweets. I’m so glad that none of my own thoughts about day to day happenings will stick to that sticky web – I don’t post on Facebook and I don’t tweet. To me this is all ‘evidence’ junk: evidence of something done, something won, or a presence somewhere thought significant to someone.  I’m not social enough for social media. I know that the vast majority of people care less about what I do, though this blog will probably make the cut.

I suppose all this stuff has to be saved because one never knows when a biographer might want to know what his subject wrote about the events on a certain day, or what plans a mad bomber hatched, but really, all that stuff is junk.  Would we be better off now if Einstein or Hitler or Alexander the Great had tweeted? How ‘bout if Lucretia Borgia or Thomas Jefferson were on Facebook? We’ll never know – and I’m so glad.

*Pi, I’ve now learned, is infinite. Around the same time I read the article on the rise of big data, I came upon an article from Slate called Your Life in Pi. Speaking of TMI, the Pi article tells me "Pi is an infinite, nonrepeating decimal - meaning that every possible number combination exists somewhere in pi. Converted into ASCII text, somewhere in that infinite string of digits is the name of every person you will ever love, the date, time, and manner of your death, and the answers to all the great questions of the universe. Converted into a bitmap, somewhere in that infinite string of digits is a pixel-perfect representation of the first thing you saw on this earth, the last thing you will see before your life leaves you, and all the moments, momentous and mundane, that will occur between those two points. All information that has ever existed or will ever exist, the DNA of every being in the universe, EVERYTHING: all contained in the ratio of a circumference and a diameter."  Whew!  Let someone else convert things into ASCII – I went pi-eyed just googling that.

I can’t begin to know when or even if our store of information will outgrow our ability to store it, but I think I’ll not be around to worry about it.

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