William Oldacre Photography

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Islands Of Meaning

The other day I accidentally saw an interesting talk by Freeman Dyson broadcast on TVO. He wrapped up quoting James Gleick’s book – The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood – saying from this point onward, our function as finite creatures – as humans, is to create islands of meaning in the flood of information – that this applies to all forms of creative activity from science, and art to literature.

He said, somewhere around the year 2000 there was a turning point visible almost everywhere in both intellectual and practical activities at which it became cheaper to collect information than to understand it.

Personally I’ve struggled over the past 17 years with this paradigm shift in almost all my personal, creative and work activities with an ever increasing panic – to the point now where I’ve embarked on several personal projects to eject and delete information – music, images, videos, books, files – that I’m not immediately using. Simply because I can easily collect them again if I need to. More and more I use the internet as a repository, as an index and search for the items I need when I need them.

I’ve bought more and more and more rotating storage – hundreds, possibly thousands of CD’s, DVD’s and now Terrabytes of harddrives. In the name of redundancy and disaster recovery, I now own more than 20 Terrabytes (approximately 20,000 Gigabytes) of disk space scattered across my print, creative and personal life – and I don’t even work with video – okay a little.

In 1999 I began to compress all my CD music into mp3 files and collect them into a single database of easily accessible music. At that time I had maybe 30 Gigabytes of music. By 2002 I was overwhelmed by the library of music I had accumulated – music I did not have enough time to hear let alone time to decide whether I liked. On top of this, I’ve now digitized all my vinyl and taped music – but have yet to edit, compress and integrate it into my collection. It’s a giant mess.

In all respects this deluge of readily available material has changed the way I function. For my Light Signatures project I’ve collected almost 5000 source images – without even trying hard – most of them worthwhile. Never before have I captured, stored and archived work with such ease, never before have I had such ready access to a feedback loop that consequently enabled the capture of such a high percentage of worthy images.

What began unconsciously at first – creating islands of meaning as Freeman and James so eloquently put it – I now openly acknowledge as my creative raison d’etre. Creating islands of meaning is exactly what I’m searching for – finding order in chaos. This concept underlies what I do in much of my life.

There are some negatives.
Items are no longer precious.
It is now harder than ever to make compelling statements.
I feel panic – I’m overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this undertaking and concerned my projects are never-ending.

But, there are more positives than negatives – I think.
Our standards are higher. We demand and expect greater quality.
We can draw conclusions and inferences more readily and rapidly.
Education and knowledge is more accessible.
The pace of change and discovery is increasing – some may see this as a negative.
We are more connected as a whole species – as a whole society.
We are more responsible – both individually and collectively.

However, it seems cornucopia doesn’t necessarily equal paradise.

We need coping mechanisms – methods to find and utilize the information we require – discard and ignore what we don’t. Ways to sift through the chaos and noise to create compelling and meaningful constructs. These are the tools we need to make if we are to survive this tsunami wave of our own devising.

Exciting times.