Wandering the vast labyrinth of useless information, you might encounter some people having a debate about the last person who knew everything. This is a great, and also pretty hopeless debate, because it requires a judgment about what all the useful information in the world might have been and who was capable of knowing it.
It's also a pretty Western-centric debate. None of the people who supposedly knew everything knew much of anything about what people knew in Asia or Africa.
Factoring for that, take your pick: Erasmus, Sir Francis Bacon, Roger Bacon, Thomas Young. I always say it was John Stuart Mill, and I'm pretty sure I say it because somebody else said it to me when I was at an impressionable age.
John Stuart Mill certainly had a lot of useful information. Useless information would be knowing that he was Bertrand Russell's godfather, which is something I know.
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- Jessamyn West is the director of operations at Metafilter, and does community and technology work in Randolph, Vermont
- Deb Amlen is a humorist for The New York Times who writes for their blog Wordplay. On January 6, she’ll launch humor column, Buzzology, which will be a weekly column on David Pogue’s re-launch of his Yahoo! Tech site.
- David Weinberger is the author of Everything is Miscellaneous, and co-director of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab.
- Steve Silverman is a high school science teacher, author of Einstein’s Refrigerator, and writes the Useless Information podcast.