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story: what are you saying?

Claude Shannon in binary

(source: Daniel Hertzberg)

- Claude Shannon and communication -


“science (has) no true owners, only participants and contributors.” it was the underlying philosophy of Bell Labs (as described by Jon Gertner in The Idea Factory), and is an underlying truth of all creation and innovation that has any chance of having a lasting impact. Claude Shannon certainly benefited from both that truth and its influence on how Bell Labs was run.


Shannon could have easily been seen as, well, quirky. it was not uncommon for him to be seen riding a unicycle up and down the halls of the Labs, juggling as he did (literally), as a way to free his thinking. he once spent countless hours at work and home over several months building an electronic mouse (no not like the one attached to your computer) that could ‘learn’ its way through a maze that kept changing – hardly an undertaking one could justify let alone connect to the ‘business’ of telecommunications.

but to know Shannon was to know he looked at the world differently. and that took practice. the environment of Bell Labs, at least for the time it was maintained under the larger entity of Ma Bell, allowed that, encouraged that, facilitated that… ‘looking at the world differently’.


today, many people know that the ‘language’ that represents all information technology and telecommunication is binary – 1s and 0s, arranged to represent information and enable it not only to move faster and cheaper, anywhere and in any form, but also to do so in any human language, from any one part of the world or person to another. thanks to Claude Shannon.


as explained by Gertner, “Shannon maintained that all communication systems could be thought of in the same way, regardless of whether they involved a lunchroom conversation, a postmarked letter, a phone call, or a radio or telephone transmission.” to Shannon, “one shouldn’t necessarily think of information in terms of meaning,” or for that matter, as being packaged in a certain format to share. “all communications could be thought of in terms of information, all information could be measured in bits, and all the bits could be thought of digitally.” Shannon believed that all information, at least form the view of someone trying to move it place to place, was the same.


he did not invent the phone, or wireless, or packet switching networks, or the internet, or… you get the idea. but he gave us a new way to think and in doing so, a path for those who indeed did create the major telecommunications and technological advancements of the last 50 years.

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