Skip to main content

Too Much Information - Dave Gorman ****

It might seem odd to feature a book by comedian Dave Gorman on a popular science site, but this is a book about information, information technology, media and its impact on us as people - so entirely deserves its place here.

Admittedly, the book can often seem like a specialist version of the TV show Grumpy Old Men on the topic of information, IT and the media - and there certainly are some funny parts to it - but just as the subtitle suggests that Gorman is trying to think in a deluge of often unwanted 'information', itself of dubious nature, so it gives the reader the chance to do the same.

What comes through, as is usually the case with Gorman, is an obsessive fascination with detail (which, if you're a geek like me, you will probably share). He picks up on a piece of information and pulls it apart to destruction. So, for instance, he riffs (there is really no other word for it) about the oddity of the band Scouting for Girls putting out a 'greatest hits' album in which clearly (and he has a chart to prove it) most of the tracks weren't hits at all.

Some of the content of Too Much Information is pure grumpiness, as in the plea for Twitter users to gain some perspective and stop thinking it's funny or clever to change words by prefacing them with 'tw' to make them special-to-Twitter. People, he assures us, remain people, not 'tweeple' or (shudder) 'tweeps'. Elsewhere he comes up with a fascinating analysis of why all HTC mobile phones show a particular time in adverts, uncovers the bizarre ways that celebrities are exploited by (and exploit) the media and ponders the social impact of the 'next customer' separators we use on supermarket conveyor belts.

The stories, as they effectively are, range in length from just one page to at least ten, and often hit the spot, though with 40 different, loosely collected topics, the book can feel too bitty and lacking cohesion as you read through it. Even so, I found many of the subjects fascinating, some informative and almost all of them enjoyable. 

If you've never taken the time to step back and think about what being in such a connected, information rich world does to us - and how people and companies try to manipulate us through that information - it really is time you did so. And Dave Gorman is here to be a grumpy guide to that voyage of discovery.

Paperback:  

Kindle:  

Audio download:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

De/Cipher - Mark Frary ****

I was a little doubtful when I first saw this book. Although it has the intriguing tagline 'The greatest codes ever invented and how to crack them' the combination of a small format hardback and gratuitous illustrations made me suspect it would be a lightweight, minimal content, Janet and John approach to codes and ciphers. Thankfully, in reality Mark Frary manages to pack a remarkable amount of content into De/Cipher's slim form.

Not only do we get some history on and instructions to use a whole range of ciphers, there are engaging little articles on historical codebreakers and useful guidance on techniques to break the simpler ciphers. The broadly historical structure takes the reader through basic alphabetic manipulation, keys, electronic cryptography, one time pads and so on, all the way up to modern public key encryption and a short section on quantum cryptography. 

We even get articles on some of the best known unsolved ciphers, such as the Dorabella and the Voynich ma…

Cosmology for the Curious - Delia Perlov and Alex Vilenkin ***

In the recently published The Little Book of Black Holes we saw what I thought was pretty much impossible - a good, next level, general audience science title, spanning the gap between a typical popular science book and an introductory textbook, but very much in the style of popular science. Cosmology for the Curious does something similar, but coming from the other direction. This is an introductory textbook, intended for first year physics students, with familiar textbook features like questions to answer at the end of each chapter. Yet by incorporating some history and context, plus taking a more relaxed style in the writing, it's certainly more approachable than a typical textbook.

The first main section, The Big Bang and the Observable Universe not only covers basic big bang cosmology but fills in the basics of special and general relativity, Hubble's law, dark matter, dark energy and more. We then move onto the more speculative (this is cosmology, after all) aspects, brin…

Paul McAuley - Four Way Interview

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. He gave up his position as a research biologist to write full-time. He lives in London. His latest novel is Austral.


Why science fiction?

For one thing, I fell in love with science fiction at an early age, and haven’t yet fallen out of love with it (although I have flirted with other genres). For another, we’re living in an increasingly science-fictional present. Every day brings headlines that could have been ripped from a science-fiction story. Giant robot battle: Who knew a duel between chainsaw-armed mech suits could be so boring? for instance. Or, Roy Orbison hologram to embark on UK tour in 2018. And looming above all this, like Hokusai’s famous wave, are the ongoing changes caused by global warming and climate change, which is just one consequence of human activity having become the dominant force of change on the planet…