talking drums

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The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick


Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, AltaVista, bank run, bioinformatics, Brownian motion, butterfly effect, citation needed, Claude Shannon: information theory, clockwork universe, computer age, conceptual framework, crowdsourcing, death of newspapers, discovery of DNA, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter,, Eratosthenes, Fellow of the Royal Society, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Henri Poincaré, Honoré de Balzac, index card, informal economy, information retrieval, invention of the printing press, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jaron Lanier, jimmy wales, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Louis Daguerre, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, microbiome, Milgram experiment, Network effects, New Journalism, Norbert Wiener, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, PageRank, pattern recognition, phenotype, pre–internet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RAND corporation, reversible computing, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Simon Singh, Socratic dialogue, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, stochastic process, talking drums, the High Line, The Wisdom of Crowds, transcontinental railway, Turing machine, Turing test, women in the workforce

Every new medium transforms the nature of human thought. In the long run, history is the story of information becoming aware of itself. Some information technologies were appreciated in their own time, but others were not. One that was sorely misunderstood was the African talking drum. * * * ♦ And added drily: “In this role, electronic man is no less a nomad than his Paleolithic ancestors.” 1 | DRUMS THAT TALK (When a Code Is Not a Code) Across the Dark Continent sound the never-silent drums: the base of all the music, the focus of every dance; the talking drums, the wireless of the unmapped jungle. —Irma Wassall (1943)♦ NO ONE SPOKE SIMPLY ON THE DRUMS. Drummers would not say, “Come back home,” but rather, Make your feet come back the way they went, make your legs come back the way they went, plant your feet and your legs below, in the village which belongs to us.♦ They could not just say “corpse” but would elaborate: “which lies on its back on clods of earth.”

He saw Lokele youth practicing the drums less and less, schoolboys who did not even learn their own drum names.♦ He regretted it. He had made the talking drums a part of his own life. In 1954 a visitor from the United States found him running a mission school in the Congolese outpost of Yalemba.♦ Carrington still walked daily in the jungle, and when it was time for lunch his wife would summon him with a fast tattoo. She drummed: “White man spirit in forest come come to house of shingles high up above of white man spirit in forest. Woman with yams awaits. Come come.” Before long, there were people for whom the path of communications technology had leapt directly from the talking drum to the mobile phone, skipping over the intermediate stages. * * * ♦ The trip was sponsored by the Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and the Civilization of Africa for the purpose of interfering with slavers

., 5.1, 5.2 Smolin, John social sciences, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3 Solomonoff, Ray, 12.1, 12.2, 12.3, 12.4 Sömmerring, Samuel Thomas von Sophocles, 14.1, 15.1 Southwell, Robert Soviet Union, 12.1, 12.2, 12.3 space exploration Speculum Maius (Vincent of Beauvais) spelling, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4 Spender, Stephen Sperry, Roger “spooky action at a distance,” (Einstein), 13.1, 13.2 Sprat, Thomas, 2.1, 3.1 statistical analysis, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4, 9.1, 9.2, 12.1 steam power, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 9.1, 9.2 Stent, Gunther, 10.1, 10.2, 10.3 Stevin, Simon stochastic processes, 7.1, 7.2 Stoppard, Tom, 9.1, 9.2, 14.1 storage of information Shannon’s early calculations on, 7.1, 7.2 sources of confusion in, 14.1, 14.2 trends in, 14.1, 14.2 Streufert, Siegfried, 15.1, 15.2 Strogatz, Steven, epl.1, epl.2 Stuart, Gilbert Suetonius superposition of states, 13.1, 13.2 Surowiecki, James surprise, as feature of information, 7.1, 9.1 Susskind, Leonard syllabary symbolic logic application to genetics, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3 to avoid paradox conceptual basis, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3 conceptual origins of computers in, 6.1, 6.2 to describe communication systems to describe relay circuits, prl.1, 6.1, 6.2 goals of Principia Mathematica, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3 incompleteness of formal systems of, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 6.4, 7.1 as mechanical operation, 6.1, 6.2, 7.1, 7.2 promise of, 6.1, 6.2 search for perfect system of symbols and symbol sets in Babbage’s mechanical notation, 4.1, 4.2, 5.1, 6.1 for cryptography fo universal language in Lovelace’s game solution formula for measurement of information, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3 for perfect language redundancy of communication determined by, 1.1, 1.2 in structure of language for Turing machine see also alphabet(s); code; symbolic logic; writing Szilárd, Leó, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, 9.4, 13.1 “Table Alphabeticall, A” (Cawdrey), 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.10, 3.11, 3.12, 3.13, 3.14, 3.15, 3.16, 3.17, 3.18, 3.19 Table of Constants of the Class Mammalia (Babbage) Table of the Relative Frequency of the Causes of Breaking of Plate Glass Windows (Babbage) Table of Triangular Numbers, (Babbage) Tables for the Improvement of Navigation (Briggs) Table to find the Height of the Pole (Briggs) Tafelen van Interest (Stevin) Talbot, William Fox talking drums, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, 1.10, 1.11, 1.12 Talking Drums of Africa, The (Carrington) Tawell, John Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre telegraphy, prl.1, 1.1, 4.1 address codes, 14.1, 14.2 Baudot code for bubble cipher and compression systems for, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6 as commercial business, 5.1, 5.2 commercial interest in, 5.1, 5.2 conceptual understanding of, 5.1, 5.2 early systems for, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, 5.7, 5.8, 5.9, 5.10, 5.11, 5.12 electrical relays in before electricity, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4 in England, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3 errors in in France, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, 5.7, 5.8 growth of, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, 5.7, 5.8, 5.9 infrastructure of invention of, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4 as medium, 5.1, 5.2 operator’s key perception of time and, 5.1, 5.2 preservation of messages sent by, 5.1, 5.2 private ciphers to reduce cost of, 5.1, 5.2 public interest in codes and, 5.1, 5.2 in Soviet Union statistical structure of language in, 7.1, 7.2 telephony and, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3 trans-Atlantic, 5.1, 5.2 waveform analysis in weather reporting and, 5.1, 5.2 see also Morse code telephony architecture and barbed-wire networks biological metaphors for commercial applications of, 6.1, 6.2 concern about social effects of demand for information and, 15.1, 15.2 electrical engineering requirements of, 6.1, 6.2 evolution of switching technology for, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 6.4 farmer cooperative networks of growth of, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3 measurement of information carried by, prl.1, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 6.4, 6.5 printed directories, 6.1, 6.2 relays in signal distortion in, prl.1, prl.2 in Soviet Union telephotography, 6.1, 6.2 teleportation, 13.1, 13.2, 13.3, 13.4 television, prl.1, prl.2, 7.1, 11.1, 11.2 Teller, Edward Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, 4.1, 4.2 Terhal, Barbara Théorie des fonctions analytiques (Lagrange) Theory of Heat (Maxwell) thermodynamics of computation, 13.1, 13.2, 13.3, 13.4 concept of entropy in, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3 conceptual evolution of, 9.1, 9.2 first law of of life molecular fluctuations in, 9.1, 9.2 probability in, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, 9.4 second law of, 8.1, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, 9.4, 9.5, 9.6 Thesaurus (Roget) thinking cryptographic skills as digital operation, 8.1, 8.2 discovery of human–computer comparison, 8.1, 8.2 language and, 2.1, 2.2 in literate cultures, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6, 2.7, 2.8 logic and, 2.1, 2.2, 5.1, 5.2 machine and computer operations as, 6.1, 7.1, 7.2, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4, 8.5, 8.6, 8.7, 8.8, 8.9, 8.10 “recoding” of information in, 8.1, 8.2 telegraph effects on, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4 see also logic Thomas, Thomas Thomson, James Thomson, William, Lord Kelvin, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3 “Three Approaches to the Definition of the Concept ‘Amount of Information’” (Kolmogorov) Three Letter Code for Condensed Telegraphic and Inscrutably Secret Messages and Correspondence (Scott) “Three Models for the Description of Language” (Chomsky) THROBAC time effects of information technology in perception of movement toward entropy in, 9.1, 9.2 in physics of black holes speed of early mechanical calculators, 4.1, 4.2 standardization of clocks, 1.1, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4 telegraph effects on understanding of, 5.1, 5.2 written language and Time Machine, The (Wells) Tobias, Andrew tonality, in communication, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 Torres y Quevedo, Leonardo Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia, 13.1 trademark names, 14.1, 14.2, 14.3 transistor, prl.1, prl.2, prl.3, 3.1, 7.1, 14.1 translation, language, 3.1, 3.2 transmission of information Babbage’s work on, 4.1, 4.2 bandwidth requirements, 6.1, 6.2 in biological evolution, 10.1, 10.2 in cuneiform, 2.1, 2.2 data compression for disruptive effects of new technologies for, prl.1, prl.2 entanglement as evolution of electrical technologies for, 5.1, 5.2 genetic, 10.1, 10.2 historical evolution, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 human history and, prl.1, prl.2 in telephotography, 6.1, 6.2 interconnectedness of cyberspace for, 3.1, 3.2 limits of speed and capacity, 7.1, 8.1, 8.2 news reports, 5.1, 5.2 overload effects, 15.1, 15.2, 15.3, 15.4, 15.5 by quantum teleportation, 13.1, 13.2 for replication of culture sensory involvement as indicator of quality of, 2.1, 2.2 source of noise in transmission of electricity as, 5.1, 5.2 units of measurement see also communication; meme(s); specific mode of transmission Treatise on Electro-Magnetism (Roget) tree rings triangular numbers, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 4.4 Trudeau, Garry truth, 2.1, 5.1, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 6.4, 6.5 Turing, Alan, prl.1, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4, 7.5, 7.6, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4, 8.5, 9.1, 14.1 Turing machine(s) capabilities as code generator proof of incompleteness theorem by, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4, 12.1 significance of, in computer science, 12.1, 12.2 states symbols tape, 7.1, 7.2 thermodynamics of, 13.1, 13.2 two-state model U machine, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 12.1 Turing Test, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4 Twitter, 11.1, epl.1, epl.2 Uglow, Jenny uncertainty entropy as measure of, 7.1, 9.1, 9.2 incompleteness theorem and, 7.1, 12.1 information and limits to science, 12.1, 12.2 in measurement of quantum properties, 13.1, 13.2, 13.3 uncomputability, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4, 7.5, 12.1, 12.2, 12.3, 12.4, 12.5 undecidability; see decision problem uninteresting numbers, 12.1, 12.2 University of Vienna Updike, John Uruk, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 Vail, Alfred, 1.1, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, 5.7, 7.1 Vail, Theodore N., 6.1, 6.2 VanArsdale, Daniel W.


pages: 322 words: 88,197

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson


Ada Lovelace, Alfred Russel Wallace, Antoine Gombaud: Chevalier de Méré, Berlin Wall, bitcoin, Book of Ingenious Devices, Buckminster Fuller, Claude Shannon: information theory, Clayton Christensen, colonial exploitation, computer age, conceptual framework, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Drosophila, Fellow of the Royal Society, game design, global village, Hedy Lamarr / George Antheil, HyperCard, invention of air conditioning, invention of the printing press, invention of the telegraph, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, John von Neumann, joint-stock company, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Landlord's Game, lone genius, megacity, Minecraft, Murano, Venice glass, music of the spheres, Necker cube, New Urbanism, Oculus Rift, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, pattern recognition,, placebo effect, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, profit motive, QWERTY keyboard, Ray Oldenburg, spice trade, spinning jenny, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, supply-chain management, talking drums, the built environment, The Great Good Place, the scientific method, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, trade route, Turing machine, Turing test, Upton Sinclair, urban planning, Victor Gruen, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, white flight, Whole Earth Catalog, working poor, Wunderkammern

Rhythm, too, can function as a kind of informational code, as Samuel Morse discovered in the invention of the telegraph. The very first long-distance wireless networks were the “talking drums” of West Africa, percussive instruments that were tuned to mimic the pitch contours of African languages. Complex messages warning of impending invasions, or sharing news and gossip about deaths or marriage ceremonies, could be conveyed at close to the speed of sound across dozens of miles, through relays of drummers situated in each village. Instruments designed originally to set the cadence for dance and other musical rituals turned out to be surprisingly useful for encoding information as well. The origins of the talking drum technology are lost to history; there is no Samuel Morse to celebrate, some ingenious inventor of the original code. But presumably the idea followed roughly the same sequence that brought other civilizations from bone flutes to music boxes: the patterns of synchronized sound were initially triggered for the strange intoxication they invoked in their listeners.

And yet, strangely enough, computers were invented before typewriters, if you consider Babbage’s analytic engine to be the first computer. Babbage figured out how to swap algorithms in and out of random access memory before the rest of us figured out how to strike a few keys with our fingers and make letters appear on a page. “From a mechanical point of view”: Michael H. Adler, The Writing Machine (London: Allen and Unwin, 1973), 5. The very first long-distance: For more on the talking drums, see James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (New York: Vintage, 2012). “The Ballet began”: Richard Rhodes, Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World (New York: Doubleday, 2011), 68. “outsacked the Sacre”: Paul Lehrman, “Blast from the Past,” Wired, November 1, 1999,

See also animation as an improvement over magic lantern shows, 170–71 Carthay Circle Theatre premiere of Snow White, 181 close-up shot, 171 Walt Disney, 177–81 Her (film), 184 multiplane camera to show visual depth, 179–81, 180 origin of storyboards, 178 Snow White (film), 176, 177–81, 184 Steamboat Willie (film), 176, 177 city planning Fort Worth, 54 population shifts from urban centers to the suburbs, 54–55 Victor Gruen’s vision, 53–55, 58–59 Walt Disney’s vision for EPCOT, 55–62, 59–60, 274 Civilization and Capitalism (Braudel), 39–40 Civil War, 34 class differences broken down by the emerging fashion industry, 38–40 distribution of wealth as shown in the Landlord’s Game, 196–98 exhibitions as great levelers, 157 public spaces as an equalizer, 246, 258–59 as shown in the game of chess, 188–90 Claude glass, 265, 265–66 clocks as the basis for automata, 6 cloves, 111–13, 122–25, 140 codes cycle of encoding and decoding, 92 “talking drums” of West Africa, 91 telegraph, 91 Coen, Jan Pieterszoon, 119 coffee. See also coffeehouses caffeine, 246–48 taste of, 248 utilitarian purposes of, 248 “Vertue of the COFFEE Drink” (essay), 249–50 Waghorn’s, 252 Woman’s Petition Against Coffee, 250–51 coffeehouses, 251, 253 Bedford, 252–54 differences among, 252–54 eclectic decor of Don Saltero’s, 255–57 intellectual networking, 254–55, 259 John Hogarth’s, 252 Lloyd’s, 254 London, 254 as a news source for journalists, 254 as places of productivity and innovation, 258–59 “Proclamation for the Suppression of Coffee Houses,” 251–52 Rawthmell’s, 259 Starbucks, 274 “Turk’s Head, The,” 249 cognitive science and chess, 193–94 chunking, 193 color chintz and calico, 27, 27 cotton, dyed, 26–27 as enhanced by a Claude glass, 265, 265–66 trends of the mid-1700s, 37 Tyrian purple, 18–21 Columbus, Christopher, 114–15, 211–14, 212 commodity fetishism, 153–54 Common Sense (Paine), 241 Compleat English Tradesman, The (Defoe), 24 computer technology.


pages: 268 words: 112,708

Culture works: the political economy of culture by Richard Maxwell


1960s counterculture, AltaVista, Apple's 1984 Super Bowl advert, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, big-box store, business process, corporate governance, cuban missile crisis, deindustrialization, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, global village, Howard Rheingold, income inequality, informal economy, intermodal, late capitalism, Marshall McLuhan, medical malpractice, Network effects, profit maximization, Ralph Nader, refrigerator car, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, structural adjustment programs, talking drums, telemarketer, the built environment, Thorstein Veblen, Unsafe at Any Speed, urban renewal, Victor Gruen, Whole Earth Catalog, women in the workforce

In fact, many of the complex rhythms are not possible unless you dance while you play in order to keep time; counting would throw you off. There is not enough room in your typical studio to dance around, not to mention the feedback problem that ensues as cables cross during performance. Within the African Diaspora tradition, drums are already recording instruments meant for outdoors playback. The rhythms we have inherited come from tonal, oral languages whose culture is archived within the beat. The talking drum and the phrase “drum talk,” at one point in the United States were literal statements. The body of the player is to be evident, readily discernible by the timbre, length of the strokes, and intervals. The performer’s 121 Anna Beatrice Scott culture and history are also evident—you can tell who his teacher was, or what language she speaks. The drum called one to move, as an individual, as a unit, as a movement—an insurrection.23 Today the power of percussion is referenced in the skills of the DJ behind the wheels of steel and the imprint of the R&B and hip-hop producer, otherwise known as “the sound.”

See also Enchantment Structure of feeling, 241 Suburbanization, 170–74 Sullivan, Ed, 231 Super Bowl, 74, 123, 137 Surgeon General: 1964 report on cancer risks of smoking, 36 Surveillance, 19, 133, 173, 184–87, 216–18. See also Marketing Sussman, Gerald, 3, 9, 20 Sweatshops, 2, 176, 190 Sydney, 18, 154 United Kingdom, 50, 142. See also England U.S. Census Bureau, 73 U.S. Information Agency (USIA), 27–28, 35–36, 40, 44; sponsor of 1964 Venice Biennale, 49 U.S. State Department, 27–28, 235; Division of Cultural Relations, 27 U.S. Supreme Court, 101, 236; “Feist” decision, 236 USA Today, 139 Taiwan, 125 Talking drum, 121–22 Tax cuts: corporate welfare, 171–72 Tax evasion: corporate, 171, 176 Technology, 2, 9, 13, 19, 89, 121, 123–24, 134, 199–208, 226, 234–43 Television, 10, 35–36, 41, 68, 74–78, 99–100, 107, 117–20, 132, 136–55, 163–64, 172, 183, 190, 204, 210, 212, 227, 245; development of, 229–33; licensing costs of sports on, 138 Thailand, 175 Theme parks, 68–69, 182, 233 Time-Life, 229, 233 Time Warner, 136, 140, 145, 205, 207, 233.


pages: 187 words: 55,801

The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market by Frank Levy, Richard J. Murnane


Atul Gawande, call centre, computer age, correlation does not imply causation, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, deskilling, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane: The New Division of Labor, hypertext link, index card, job automation, knowledge economy, knowledge worker, low skilled workers, low-wage service sector, pattern recognition, profit motive, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Reagan, speech recognition, talking drums, telemarketer, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, working poor

A quarterly earnings estimate, the expression on a customer’s face, the tone of a boss’ voice— we perceive and process all of this information in the course of daily WHY PEOPLE STILL MATTER 15 work. In a general sense, we have been information workers since the dawn of civilization. Because information and work are inseparable, any technology that changes how we use information has the potential to reorganize how work is done. Early information technologies—talking drums, the telegraph, and telephone—increased the speed at which information could be transmitted, and, in some cases, the gains were remarkable. Just before the advent of the telegraph, sending a one-page message from New York to Chicago took ten days. By 1850, the telegraph had reduced that time to five minutes and had reduced the cost by a factor of 100. The gain in transmission speed supported numerous innovations: creation of the first national stock markets, a revolution in railroad track layouts, the first just-in-time inventory systems.3 The computer’s advance over earlier technologies is its ability to actually process certain kinds of information.