Those of us in the word business think we know the power of words. But most of us don’t know how very costly words used to be and therefore how limited was the impact they could have.

Information, of course, is one of the fundamental economic inputs, along with labor, capital, energy, and materials. And no fewer than three times in human history has the cost of storing, transmitting, and retrieving information been radically reduced by new technology, with revolutionary consequences each time.

Human beings are a communicative species because we are, profoundly, a social one, and the individuals of all social species communicate with their fellows. Many species, for instance, have a danger call. But only a handful (so far as we know) have the ability to convey information regarding things not in view, in other words, abstractions. Ravens, a few species of...


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