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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #81      A Publication of The Nature Institute     December 10, 1998
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    Quotes and Provocations
       Here's to the Information Age: A Toast
       The Human Genome as a Book of Lies
       Digital Diploma Mills Grinding to a Halt?
       Breaking through to Reality
    Letter from Des Moines (Lowell Monke)
       Computer-Centered Learning
       On Giving a Christmas Gift to My Niece (Wendell Piez)
    Words Past and Present
    About this newsletter
                        ** From the NETFUTURE Archives **
                   "Anything can break.  Only a system can have
             a bug."  "Instead of the malice of the isolated object,
                 we face ever more complicated possible linkages
                   among systems of objects."  (Edward Tenner)
                             (For an updated context,
                        see "Words Past and Present" below.)
                             QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS
    Here's to the Information Age: A Toast
    Last June I began an address to over five hundred librarians in Washing-
    ton, D.C., by saying, "I defy anyone here to tell me what information is."
    Seeing no takers, I asked how many in the audience, given several minutes
    to think, imagined they could write down a serviceable definition of
    "information".  Not a single hand went up.
    Subsequently I put the same question to over three hundred librarians in
    Calgary, Alberta, and again no one raised a hand.  Surely this should pro-
    voke some reflection in us (as I think it did in many of those remarkably
    good-humored and sensible librarians).  How can we so universally hail the
    profound significance of living in an Information Age when we don't have
    the foggiest notion what information is?
    An official respondent to one of my talks did later fire back,
       What's the problem?  We all know what information is.  It's the stuff
       our users need.
    Unfortunately, this doesn't quite do it.  Coal miners, MacDonalds employ-
    ees, and dentists are also in the business of providing what their custo-
    mers need.  Does this make them information workers?
    Actually, though, I think the respondent came as close as one can come to
    the substance of the prevailing usage:  information is "stuff".  Which
    makes him, I suppose, a stuff worker, and our age the Age of Stuff.
    The nice thing about Stuff is that, while conveniently and all-embracingly
    vague, it also carries a prestigious halo borrowed from the technical
    theory of information.  (See "Does Information Exist?" in NF #58.)
    According to this theory, mind you, "information" is precisely defined,
    but effectivel