...unless you is msnbc editor....

>> Tuesday, March 23, 2010

You'll need to click on the image to embiggen it:

At first I thought maybe it was, you know, some kind of cheap stab at irony, but the actual article gets the headline right. Speaking of which, it's not much of an interview; Bill Nye is great, but the questions he's asked are pretty awful, like, "So you're saying that even before the iPhone and Google and everything, we were offloading information?" Gee Gizmodo dude, ever heard of a fucking book? No, not one of those things you download for your Kindle, I mean one of those floppy things with pieces of paper stuck inside it and there are little tiny symbols on the pieces of paper that encode information, ever heard of one of those?

Nye's pretty patient, actually--either that, or somebody edited out all the times he called the interviewer a dumbass. Offloading information into permanent external storage and figuring out new ways to accurately perform mental tasks with hardware is indeed, as Nye says, a hallmark of being human--it's the bleeding essence of civilization, isn't it? Language itself, even before somebody invents a way to write it down on (hopefully) more permanent media, is a way of offloading information into the flash memory of the community, the clan, the eternal posterity.

There's also a bit of irritating fluff early on, comparing human memory to computer storage. It's a fallacious comparison to start with; it may not wholly be Nye's fault, since he's only responding to what he was asked and I think he's trying, ironically enough, to dumb it down for people who are used to dealing with gadgets, but I think the correct answer is there's very little comparison between computer memory, which can store data with relatively little information loss, and human memory, which really isn't designed for most of what we use it for and is demonstrably buggy. It's sort of like the way, back in the day, people tried to compare memory to film and later to video; there's no evidence the brain is set up to reliably and permanently store all sensations or experiences in a fixed media. (One can quibble about whether technological media, with their various Achilles' Heels, are really fixed, but surely we can agree that a hard drive, say, is at least designed to record and play back the same stored sequences of ones and zeroes for the physical life of the drive.)

Anyway, I don't know that I want to get all bloggity about that. Mostly, I found the grammar error on the main page amusing in context.


Seth Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 12:16:00 PM EDT  

Nye actually does seem pretty patient here, and his explanations are remarkably concise and easy to understand. Good work, I say! I'm a great admirer of people who can popularize science.

Nathan Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 12:44:00 PM EDT  

My brain (AKA perfect personal storage facility) refused to see that "Cell Phone" was written in the singular, so it took me forever to figure out what you were all excited about.


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