Monday, March 19, 2012


Right now I am in the middle of George Dyson's new book "Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe." It starts back in those dark, pre-computerized days with Alan Turing and Johnnie Von Neumann figuring out (with the help of others, of course) the basic architecture and underlying assumptions computers still follow today.

Right now, it's about 1948 or so and the action is happening at the Institute for Advanced Study, the Princeton, New Jersey based Think Tank where so many advances came into fruition. The brilliant men and women there labor around the clock trying to make a machine work amid the chaos of unreliable and over-sensitive vacuum tubes. They also have to reckon with terrestrial forces--electrical surges, magnetic pulses and errant radio signals.

What they must to do to make the computing machine work is, simply "filter out the noise."

Today we live in the computer era. Every transaction and interaction we engage in is, it seems, through the medium of a computer. They are integral, intrinsic, insistent in our lives.

What we haven't learned to do--what we haven't gotten with all our getting--is a filter.

The noise is ever-present.

I went to a lecture on Sunday by a professor of Music called Orin Grossman. Grossman talked for an hour about how to listen.

He was right in pointing out that until the dawn of the 20th Century, it was nearly impossible to listen to music. There had to be an orchestra, or a quartet or a band around. And if they played Beethoven's "Eroica," you might go five years or more without having the chance to hear it again.

Today, we have too much. We have so much music we don't know how to hear it.

We have too much noise.

In music.

In politics.

In relationships (I do not need to know all my Facebook friends tell the world.)

And certainly in advertising.

We simply can't, as a society filter out the noise.

No wonder so many of our most-personal computers have stopped working.

No comments: