I first heard of Maxwell’s Demon in Thomas Pynchon‘s The Crying of Lot 49. In the novel, a character builds a box that seeks to exploit the apparent intersection of the fields of thermodynamics and information theory, implied by their similar use of the idea of entropy, to create a perpetual motion apparatus. His device, a box to all appearances, employs Maxwell’s Demon inside along with a “sensitive” outside to cause one half of the box to become warmer, allowing a piston to be driven. The upshot of all of these abstrusities is the suggestion that information or attention can be used to do actual work.
The idea of the attention economy, with attention replacing money as the basis of exchange, that was all the rage during the first Internet bubble of the late 1990s sounded similar. I don’t know that many of the theory’s adherents from a decade ago still hold out the same hopes for it, but it was from those ashes that Google and other clever Web-based companies arose, and now we’re beginning to see the possibility of doing interesting things with attention. Weblogs were perhaps a first, clumsy step in this direction, and things like Twitter and Tumblr are refinements of the concept. But what I’m finding most interesting these days is the sharing built into Google Reader.
One of the immediate appeals of a Weblog to me was being able to draw connections, and thus potentially convey a great deal more information than the few paragraphs I have the time to write every now and then. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been such a heavy user of hyperlinks since I started my first Weblog. I’ve never believed that what I have to say is interesting or complete in and of itself, but I do think that what I have to say about what others have said or the connections that I can draw might be of some interest to a handful of people. Yet even then, as this entry attests, I still have to do a fair amount of writing to accomplish this in a Weblog. But with Google Reader sharing, I can, just like Maxwell’s Demon, simply point (and maybe add a note for context) and others are able to follow my train of thought without my having to write it out (which has always been frustrating even at the best of times).
So like Eric before me, I invite you to follow along. You can use the Google Reader link at left, under “Currently Reading,” to see the articles I’m sharing, or you can use the “Subscribe in Google” link at right, under “Details,” to subscribe to this Weblog and set up a Google Reader account if you don’t already have one. I recommend setting up an account of your own if you can. It’s the best way to read the Web, and it works very nicely across platforms. (As an aside, Google–ironically, given their guise as a competitor in the form of Android–has done considerably more to make my iPhone useful than a Mobile Me account and all of the non-Google-driven applications in the App Store.) And if you have a Google Reader account, or you set one up, share and share alike. I want everyone to know what I think, but to think, I need to know what others are thinking.