The change in the meaning of information was largely generated by invention of telegraphy and photography in the 1840s. Telegraphy, in particular, gave legitimacy to the idea of context-free information; that is, to the idea that the value of information need not be tied to any function it might server in social and political life. It may exist by itself, as a means of satisfying curiosity and offering novelty. The telegraph made information into a commodity, a “thing” desirable in itself, separate from its possible uses and meaning. In the process, telegraphy made public discourse essentially incoherent. It brought into being a world of broken time and broken attention, to use Mumford’s phrase. The principal strength of the telegraph was its capacity to move information not collect it, explain it, or analyze it.
Building a Bridge to the 18th Century