• How Information Got Re-Invented - Issue 51: Limits


    With his marriage to Norma Levor over, Claude Shannon was a bachelor again, with no attachments, a small Greenwich Village apartment, and a demanding job. His evenings were mostly his own, and if there’s a moment in Shannon’s life when he was at his most freewheeling, this was it. He kept odd hours, played music too loud, and relished the New York jazz scene. He went out late for raucous dinners and dropped by the chess clubs in Washington Square Park. He rode the A train up to Harlem to dance the jitterbug and take in shows at the Apollo. He went swimming at a pool in the Village and played tennis at the courts along the Hudson River’s edge. Once, he tripped over the tennis net, fell hard, and had to be stitched up. His home, on the third floor of 51 West Eleventh Street, was a small (...)

    • The new unit of Shannon’s science was to represent this basic situation of choice. Because it was a choice of 0 or 1, it was a “binary digit.” In one of the only pieces of collaboration Shannon allowed on the entire project, he put it to a lunchroom table of his Bell Labs colleagues to come up with a snappier name. Binit and bigit were weighed and rejected, but the winning proposal was laid down by John Tukey, a Princeton professor working at Bell. #Bit.