What English speakers call ‘computer science’ Europeans have known as informatique, informatica, and Informatik. Now even biology has become an information science, a subject of messages, instructions, and code. Genes encapsulate information and enable procedures for reading it in and writing it out. Life spreads by networking. The body itself is an information processor. Memory resides not just in brains but in every cell. No wonder genetics bloomed along with information theory. DNA is the quintessential information molecule, the most advanced message processor at the cellular level—an alphabet and a code, 6 billion bits to form a human being. ‘What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a “spark of life,”’ declares the evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins. ‘It is information, words, instructions.… If you want to understand life, don’t think about vibrant, throbbing gels and oozes, think about information technology.’
James Gleick, The Information. All this is true and interesting and cool — but, I want to say, once you have acknowledged that in a sense everything is information, you need to move on to acknowledge the equally important point that one thing may be information in a radically different form than something else is information. And this, in my judgment, is the chief shortcoming of Gleick’s book: it fails to explore those fascinating ways in which drumming-as-information differs from digital-code-as-information and how both of them differ from genes-as-information. Contexts matter; matter matters, and things constructed from radically different materials bear information in radically different ways. There’s not enough about that in Gleick’s book.