Monday, January 30, 2012

Kicking and Screaming

My digital concept is Information.  While looking over the syllabus, I had a connection with the concept of disruptive innovation.  As humans we enjoy being comfortable.  This is in part what drives us to reach out to new ideas and ways of living.  The need for comfort drives some people to innovate, but it drives others to resist any change.  I personally am not one who changes quickly and this class has helped me realize this.  I like the concept of new technology, but am slow in making full use of it.  
I posted a comic on google+ last week about the difference in how programmers and programmers view each other.  Adam Jones mentioned in his comments (thanks for that by the way)  that this class is a force for learning new things.  I believe that this is true.  In a normal situation I would keep to my trend of checking facebook once a week and using the computer solely for writing papers and watching dumb clips on youtube.

The thing is history has taught us that those who will not adapt to modern technology will be left in its wake.  Societies with bronze tools upstaged people with stone tools and in turn the bronze age succumbed to the iron age.  I have made stone tools and they look cool, but it is easier and more effective to make use of modern technology.

So are all of us digital cavemen doomed to be left bloody and bruised as the computer age passes us by?  Or do we have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the digital world?  I don't think so. Mankind is always moving forward and new technology has not stopped them for millions of years.  I like to think that the cavemen at the top of this post will eventually see the benefits of the wheel and live better lives for it.  I am slow, but I will get there.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Controlling the past

Germans using the Enigma Machine
I talked a little in my last blog post something about how sharing information helps improve our overall knowledge.  Information is a wonderful thing, but it can also be dangerous.  Information is the basis of power and that power can be used to great benefit or harm. Since the earliest history, mankind has controlled who had access to knowledge:  the early Mesopotamians would put clay tokens within a clay ball marked by a seal.  Everything from accounting to military secrets has been subject to an information constraint.  We have now entered a digital age where massive amounts of information can be stored and transmitted, and that has brought a period of unprecedented growth.  As I studied the digital concept of control in the 20th century, I looked at how different people controlled information and why they did it.

The 20th century is marked by some of the bloodiest conflict in history.  Information during these conflicts was critical and could mean the difference between life and death.  Information about troop movements, supply lines, and reinforcements was closely guarded and people on each side had specialists dedicated to protecting information and accessing the information possessed by the opposing side.  During World War I, British Intelligence decoded a message from a German Foreign Minister about the Germans offering an alliance to the Mexican government  against the United States, a message that helped bring the United States into the war.

In World War II, the Germans were winning the war for the Atlantic.  The Germans possessed an unbreakable code that allowed them to pass information without fear of detection.  The Allies tried in vain to decipher the code, but were unable to do so and it was costing them the war.  The allies had over 9,000 people assigned to the task of breaking the code produced by the German's enigma machine.  Using captured enigma machines and mathematical equations, the allies were finally able to break the German code and turn the tide of the war.

In class, we have talked a lot about open science and the benefits of showing results of research and the process that it takes to get there.  These sentiments are felt both because of previous hoaxes and scandals, and the great gains that can be had from sharing information.  Both are valid considerations, but when discussing control it is also important to remember that some information is dangerous.  Just because information is there does not necessarily mean that it should be common knowledge.  I do agree that we are in a digital age and we all need to be better at sharing information, but I also believe that the control of information can also be a good thing.  As an archaeologist, we often withhold information in order to protect sites and artifacts that could be (and sad history has shown us that it does happen) harmed or destroyed.

There is no simple answer about what should be controlled and how heavy that control should be, but control is a necessary and responsible part of the modern age.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The nineteenth century was an age of important advancements.  Matches, sewing machines, the assembly line, and tin cans all came from this century.  It also saw the rise of Socialism and Marxism.  The 19th century also gave rise to better ways to store and transmit information.  The telephone was patented in 1876 (the same year as the first practical four-stroke combustion engine) and soon afterwards telephone wires were finding their way across the nation.  Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and people were able to record sound.  Increase in technology often brings an increased ability to share ideas and technology.  The faster it moves and the longer it can be stored, the easier it is to use that information.

Throughout history it has been important to preserve and transfer information.  Failure to do so results in time periods such as Egypt after the invasion of the "Sea people", the Greeks after the Dorian invasion, and the Dark ages.  History is full of mysteries that are only mysteries because the information has been lost. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Peeling back the layers

As I have posted before, the eighteenth century was an age of advancement in politics, theology, and technology.  As an archaeologist, I am interested in the this time period as the origin of archaeology in America.  Thomas Jefferson is known as the "Father of American Archaeology" for excavating an Indian burial mound.  He excavated the mound layer by layer, taking careful notes along the way.  (  No one is known to have scientifically performed an excavation before this and his methods were comparable to that of archaeologists a century later.

Thomas Jefferson was not the first or the last one to excavate a burial mound, but the reason that he is credited as an innovator and pioneer is that he recorded what he found.  If we do not record and share information, others cannot benefit from our work.  If one person shares information, others do not have to do the same work for the same information: everyone benefits.  Christopher Columbus was not the first European to the Americas, but he was the European to spread the word (a good example of what I'm talking about even though it not from the eighteenth century).  When information is shared, other people are able to contribute the information that they have and the entire group is made better for it. 

(Hooray! I found out how to put pictures in my posts!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

We had the second Digital Civilization class today. I have been assigned to the eighteenth century and information groups. I have a basic knowledge of the eighteenth and it should be fun learning a bit more about that. It was the age of enlightenment and revolutions. It was the age of kings, philosophers, and pirates.

For my digital concept group I have been assigned Information. This is a bit more abstract than my other group. Information is kind of a big subject. I suppose I will be looking at information in the eighteenth century and how that relates to the digital age (the point of the class).

Still getting used to blogging.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

How digitally civilized am I?

When I first thought about the question I thought that I'm probably at about the digital caveman level. As I continued to think about it I have come to the conclusion that I actually do a lot of digital things. I am not a computer science expert and I cannot program or write codes. I know enough for what I need and it works for now. I am interested in learning and would like to be more involved in the digital world, but change is slow and we will see how this goes.