For James Gleick,
the massive interconnectivity that kept Americans informed and
misinformed on the Boston bombings, shootings, manhunt and capture of a
suspect represents a "watershed for Total Noise" in a strange and
unstable information ecosystem where reality and fiction intermingle.
In a New York magazine essay, Gleick describes the condition that late novelist David Foster Wallace called Total Noise: "the tsunami of available fact, context and perspective." Gleick is the author of Chaos: Making a New Science,
which came out in 1987 and first made the principles and early
development of chaos theory understandable to the general public. He is a
prolific writer, whose 1999 book Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything (review),
tells how we had even then undergone an informational and social phase
change through the massive interconnections of people by way of modern
technology. In his New York piece, he writes that with Twitter feeds
burgeoning, microblogging, Instagram, "Internet vigilantes bleeding into
the FBI's staggeringly complex" forensic video analysis, and
crowdsourcing by social media users, the dividing line between
cyberspace and the real world has vanished.
In her New York Times column, Maureen Dowd
recalls when Gleick was her editor, and reports on a recent interview
in which she asked him to reflect on how we can make sense of relentless
waves of unorganized contradictory and changeable data. Gleick told
her he followed Twitter on his iPhone during the Boston crisis, and
added, "The Internet is messy, pointillist, noisy, often wrong. But if
you had a visceral need for instantaneity, TV couldn't compete."
writes about the gaffs of TV news reporters and anchors who traded
accuracy for speed, the blizzard of banal verbiage from commentators who
had to fill time with no new information, and misleading bits bandied
about when everyone is monitoring everyone else and "no one can bear to
be left out." Reddit users named innocent people as suspects. Gleick says the best understanding of events was produced in newspaper stories written by reporters on the scene.
Dowd asked him about an incident in which the Syrian Electronic Army hacked the AP Twitter
account and falsely reported that President Obama had been injured in
White House explosions, causing a three minute $136 billion stock plunge. He notes hacking happens; and bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not the only one who has had real and fake Twitter accounts.
is no perfect trust in Cyberspace," Gleick told Dowd. "We have all
these new channels and tools to understand the world as it happens, but
there is no reliable algorithm for sorting through the morass. ...we
have to invent a new personal methodology every day. And if we're
waiting for things to settle down and become simple, that's never going