The Ease of Finding Information

Here is another passage from Timothy Brook’s The Confusions of Pleasure:

Later, when [Qiu Jun] was on leave from his research post in Beijing in 1472, he built a library for the use of students at the prefectural school. Built of stone to withstand moisture, Qiu called it Stone Chamber. It was “a narrow place from which one can grasp the breadth of all within the four seas” and the books he placed there were the means “to grasp the world for ten thousand li from within the space of one room.” His choice of distance metaphors shows his awareness of the problems that distance imposed on the communication of knowledge, particularly for those far from the centers of academic knowledge production.

It has become popular to claim that recent innovations don’t compare with those of the past such as electricity or the train, and will lead to slower economic growth in the future. Gordon’s recently discussed article is a good example of this. My own belief is that people don’t consider how truly revolutionary the almost instantaneous communication of almost all knowledge is, and how difficult it used to be to learn anything, useful or not. We now have to waste much less time finding information, or even finding what information we should be seeking.

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