Sunday, November 30, 2008

Communicable diseases

I once heard a most intriguing talk by Jim Mussell on "The 'Very Proteus of Disease': Media, Materiality, and the Flu in 1890s London." He tracked the way that influenza epidemics and newspaper accounts of the aforementioned epidemics were received, the one causing the other and (allegedly) vice-versa, as people eager to be the first to know the news developed psychosomatic runny noses.

Now I read in the NYT that
a few weeks ago, Google deployed an early-warning service for spotting flu trends, based on search queries for flu-related symptoms.
Doubtless this will be extremely useful for those of us who like to pre-emptively stock up on orange juice. The article is at least ostensibly about privacy, and a researcher adds,
“The new information tools symbolized [sic] by the Internet are radically changing the possibility of how we can organize large-scale human efforts,” said Thomas W. Malone, director of the M.I.T. Center for Collective Intelligence.

“For most of human history, people have lived in small tribes where everything they did was known by everyone they knew,” Dr. Malone said. “In some sense we’re becoming a global village. Privacy may turn out to have become an anomaly.”

We can use our brand-new media to track the flu, and are turning into what you might call a "global village." In other words, all your McLuhan are belong to us.

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