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Joys and Perils of Information Overload: Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco

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Trinity Long Room Hub

Fellows Square

Trinity College Dublin

College Green

Ireland

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A public lecture by EU Marie Słodowska-Curie Fellow Dr Eleonora Lima (Department of Italian).

You can’t understand where mind-amplifying
technology is going unless you understand where it came from.
(Howard Rheingold)


The World Wide Web made the long-lived dream of a universal library – the bibliotheca mundi – a reality. Knowledge is no longer a tower to be conquered by few, but a dispersed network for all to navigate. At the same time, information overload and lack of source hierarchy can lead to a so-called “post-truth” society.

This talk discusses how issues concerning the way we deal with knowledge in the present digital network society have been explored ahead of our time by two of the most internationally acclaimed Italian authors, Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco
.
In his novel Invisible Cities (1972), Calvino considered the potential of non-linear narrative and anticipated many of the crucial concepts defining hypertext as we know it. The novel, significantly, is set in Kublai Khan’s palace, Xanadu: in 1967, the computer pioneer Ted Nelson named the first project on hypertext and computer networks ‘Project Xanadu’.
In his novel Foucault’s Pendulum (1988), Eco narrated the story of a computer processing and connecting a high volume of information so as to create a very convincing conspiracy theory leading to the protagonists’ death. In this prescient novel, fake news creates real tragic events and users drown, rather than roam freely, in the network.
Treating these two books as case studies, the talk explores how Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco contributed to shape the concept of network culture and, more broadly, how the intellectual work done upstream by writers often inform our understanding of digital technologies.

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Trinity Long Room Hub

Fellows Square

Trinity College Dublin

College Green

Ireland

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