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Human Beings Are Information-Seeking Creatures

James Gleick: Humanity has always been readjusting to developments in the flow of information.  Printed books appeared in Europe.  People had to readjust their thinking.  The telegraph made it possible to send instantaneous messages from one place to another place 100 miles away.  People had to readjust and they weren't always aware of the ways in which they were readjusting.    

One of the ways the telegraph changed us as humans was it gave us a new sense of what time it is.  It gave us an understanding of simultaneity.  It gave us the ability to synchronize clocks from one place to another.  It made it possible for the world to have standard time and time zones and then Daylight Savings Time and then after that jetlag.  All of that is due to the telegraph because, before that, the time was whatever it was wherever you were.  It was only when the telegraph made it possible to synchronize human activity across great distances that we needed to understand time in what, I think it’s fair to say, the modern way we understand it now.  

Well, how is the Internet going to force us to readjust?  Certainly in ways that we can't yet guess because these are early days for the Internet and just as certainly in ways that we’re beginning to get a glimmering of.  We already, I think, are familiar with this syndrome of being at a dinner party and hearing an argument break out about who was the star of that movie five years ago. . . . You reach for the device in your pocket because you know that, even if you don't know the answer, the answer is a thumbs-length away.  That changes us.  I mean, it makes the conversation seem pointless, boring.  I don't know.  Choose your poison.

We humans are information-seeking creatures.  Information is what we love.  Information is what we live by, and it’s always been that way.  We have always been walking on thin ice.  Every time a new technology comes along, we feel we’re about to breakthrough. . . . 

We have all these new information organizers.  We have Wikipedia, which is a successor to the encyclopedias that began spreading across Europe and China hundreds of years ago.  These old information organizers were attempts to make sense of a confused new world.  The more knowledge spread, the more people needed to create categories, to create filing systems.  Alphabetical order had to be invented to help people organize the first dictionaries.  On the other hand, we may have reached a point where alphabetical order has gone obsolete.  Wikipedia is ostensibly in alphabetical order, but, when you think about it, it’s not in any order at all.  You use a search engine to get into it.  The fact that G’s come after the F’s don't make any sense.  So sure, that's part of the evolution of the species.  

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

 

Our anxiety about information overload is unwarranted, says James Gleick, even in the digital age. The internet will cause a readjustment in the way we think, but so did the telegraph, the radio, and the telephone.

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  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
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  • Look in the northwestern sky below the Big Dipper after dusk while there's a chance.

UPDATE: NASA is broadcasting a NASA Science Live episode highlighting Comet NEOWISE. NASA experts will discuss and answer public questions beginning at 3PM EST on Wednesday, July 15. Tune in via the agency's website, Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope, LinkedIn, Twitch, or USTREAM.

Before last evening, July 14, 2020, the easiest way to see Comet NEOWISE — the brightest comet to zoom past Earth since 1977's Comet Hale-Bopp — from the United States was to catch it about an hour before sunrise. Now, however, you can see it in the evening, where it will remain for until the 19th. This is a definite don't-miss event — NEOWISE won't be coming back our way for another 6,800 years. It's the first major comet of the millennium, and by all accounts, it's unforgettable.

NEOWISE just got back from the Sun

Comet NEOWISE is named after the NASA infrared space telescope that first spotted it on March 27th. Its official moniker is C/2020 F3. It's estimated that the icy comet is about three miles across, not counting its tail.

NEOWISE is now heading away from our Sun, having made it closet approach, 27.4 million miles, to our star on July 3. The heat from that encounter is what's given NEOWISE its tail: It caused gas and dust to be released from the icy object, creating the tail of debris that looks so magical from here.

As NEOWISE moves closer to Earth, paradoxically, it will be less and less visible. By about July 23rd, you'll need binoculars or a telescope to see it at all. All of which makes this week prime time.

An evening delight

star constellation in sky

Image source: Allexxandar/Shutterstock/Big Think

First, find an unobstructed view of the northwest sky, free of streetlights, car headlights, apartment lights, and so on. And then, according to Sky & Telescope:

"Start looking about one hour after sunset, when you'll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness."

It should be easy to spot since it's near to one of the most recognizable constellations up there, the Big Dipper. "Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to the right." Et voilà: Comet NEOWISE.

Says Sky & Telescope's Diana Hannikainen, "Look for a faint, fuzzy little 'star' with a fainter, fuzzier little tail extending upward from it."

The comet should be visible with the naked eye, though binoculars and a simple telescope may reveal more detail.

You may also be able to snap a photo of this special visitor, though you'll need the right gear to do so. A dedicated camera is more likely to capture a good shot than a telephone, but in either case, you'll need a tripod or some other means of holding the camera dead still as it takes a timed exposure of several seconds (not all phones can do this).

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