Against 'The Bread Model of Information'


Stewart Brand and his buddies from the Whole Earth Catalog and CoEvolution Quarterly are some of the best framers I've ever seen. When I go back through their magazines, I consistently find thinking about problems that is so clear that it does not lose its value. This was part of the organizing principle of the whole enterprise, which in various forms published new fascinating material and aggregated other stuff of all ages.

Today, I was looking through a CoEvolution Quarterly book about space settlements (yes, like outer space), which had been assembled from various articles that had run in the "peculiar magazine," when I came across this wonderful little frame, which you can feel free to steal. I'm sure they'd support you.

Most of this book is Used Information. It is reprinted from various issues of The CoEvolution Quarterly, a California-based peculiar magazine. You can look at that news two ways. If you operate by the Bread Model of Information, it's terrible news. You've been gypped - stale information. On the other hand if you view information as something fundamentally different from bread, there's the possibility of good news. Having lived longer, the information here may be wiser, more co-evolved with the world. It may be more refined, having cycled complexly through the minds and responses of 40,000 CQ readers. And it's been through two editorial distillations; the less-than-wonderful and out-of-date may have been extracted.

You may have noticed that my coverage of technology for The Atlantic does not operate on the Bread Model of Information. I think we can find new ideas (or frames for ideas) all over the timeline.

Contrary to those who see rapid obsolescence for things published on the Internet, I think the exact opposite is true. When people published things on paper, it was much harder to access old things, defined in weeks, months or years. There was only enough physical space to keep the very highest quality stuff (The Brothers Karamazov) and whatever was new. Old things had to be thrown out or stuck deep in the stacks of the library. Now, the Internet puts everything precisely one-link away. Closing the distance in informational space *also* flattens out time in a way that I can't quite adequately describe yet. Why do old photos nearly always dot the hippest new Tumblrs?

What I do know is that history is more relevant and accessible than ever before and the Bread Model of Information is seeming less and less nourishing.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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