Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Ones and Zeroes

Nicholas Negroponte is a busy man. While not birthing whiz-bang stuff in MIT's iconic Media Lab, he spouts digital wisdom to the whole of geekdom via his column in Wired Magazine

And Negroponte, who is up there with World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee and email inventor Ray Tomlinson (well whaddaya know, some dude actually woke up one morning and said "Today, I will invent email and will change the way people annoy each other with chain letters forever! bwahaha!") in the Olympus of Geek gods, has also managed to write a best seller some five years ago.

Let me repeat that. A full five years ago. Hmmm. Which means that in internet time, with Moore's Law and all doubling computing speed every 18 months, Negroponte's book should be just about as old as the Deuteronomy itself. Which is funny because I'm re-reading "Being Digital" after five years and my pulse is still racing like it did the first time I devoured the book. I can't help it. The man has this certain way of cutting down big concepts to bite size.

I mean, I'm probably the biggest math-idiot you are likely to meet. I wouldn't recognize a quadrinomial equation if it sank its fang on my neck. And yet this man Negroponte, thanks largely to his plain and understandable prose and a deep understanding of the binary thought, has inspired me to hit the books and go learn more about this whole business of "being digital." Which was really great -- except i all could think about were ones and zeroes for a whole freaking week.

In the chapter BITS AND ATOMS, he writes:

"The best way to appreciate the merits and consequences of being digital is to
reflect on the difference between bits and atoms. While we are undoubtedly
in an information age, most information is delivered to us in the form
of atoms: newspapers, magazines, and books (like this one). Our
economy may be moving toward an information economy, but we measure trade
and we write our balance sheets with atoms in mind. GATT is about atoms. I
recently visited the headquarters of one of America's top five integrated circuit manufacturers. I was asked to sign in and, in the process, was asked whether I had a laptop computer with me. Of course I did. The receptionist asked for the model and serial number and for its value. 'Roughly, between one and two million dollars," I
said. 'Oh, that cannot be, sir," she replied.'What do you mean? Let me see
it.' I showed her my old Power-Book and she estimated its value at $2,000. She
wrote down that amount and I was allowed to enter the premises. The point
isthat while the atoms were not worth that much, the bits were almost

So what did i do? I fired up my P2P client and got me a no-atom, bits only file of the book.