Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Brief History of Information | The Register

A Brief History of Information | The Register:
Part 1 Kierkegaard said that irony was "as baffling as depicting an elf wearing a hat that makes him invisible." He's lucky he never encountered information.

The word seems to stand for everything, and nothing. "Information" describes everything from a precise mathematical property of communication systems, to discrete statements of fact or opinion (for example, the time a film begins or someone's perspective on a situation), to a staple of marketing rhetoric, to a world-historical phenomenon on the order of agriculture or industrialization.

The frequency and disparity of its use, by specialists and lay people alike, to describe countless general and specific aspects of life makes it difficult to analyze; no single academic discipline or method can offer an adequate explanation of the phenomenon.

A typical approach to a problem of this kind is to started with the word as such: to gather examples of its use, codify their meanings, and arrange them into a taxonomy. This has been done with varying degrees of success; for example, one prominent American-English dictionary defines the word in slightly less than 200 words.

These efforts are admirable; but if we grant any credence at all to the widely made claim that we live in an "information society" or, even more grandly, in an "information age," then surely information must be more the sum of the word's multiple meanings. Apparently, it - the word or, more properly, the category - is sui generis, and in a particularly compelling way. What qualities would make it so?...

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