Friday, March 30, 2007


The media dustup over Dr. James Dobson's interest in Fred Thompson's faith made me think about Dr. Dobson. I used to be a devoted follower, back when I was a single dad trying to figure out kids. This isn't about him at all, though.

A few years ago, Focus on the Family interviewed Dr. Richard Swenson on his book Margin. I haven't read it, but that interview stuck with me 1.

Since the invention of writing a few thousand years ago, technology has been able to increase at an exponential rate. I use "exponential" advisedly. Prior to writing, Man possessed only the amount of knowledge that a group could memorize and pass on to its next generation orally. After writing, information could be recorded in much more detail, allowing an individual to acquire or recaquire the details of an area of knowledge as needed.

A quantity increases exponentially when the amount of its increase is a function of how much of it there is. That's not a rigorous definition, but it will do.

Writing allowed information to spread, even being carried by people who could not read it. Once written down, it could last as long as its medium. The more people there were who could read, the more information there was to store and disseminate.

The Internet has greatly expanded our power to communicate. We can form cliques with people whose interests we share, even though we have never met them and couldn't pick them out of a crowd.

Likewise, the technology of war has come a long way, from spears and slings to firearms, rocket-propelled grenades, and supersonic fighters whose targets never see or hear them. Many of these weapsons require only one person to operate, and greatly magnify a single human's power.

Dr Swenson was writing before 9/11, but he foresaw the leverage acquired when a handful of people with simple knives can control the destructive power of a jumbo jet, or derail a train, or poison a city. Blogs and online communication allow us to control of vast amounts of power with the flick of a switch or the click of a mouse. Well, "us" may be a bit of an overreach.

I really should read that book.

1 Or maybe I've got it confused with some other book. It's been several years.

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