The social sense-making surrounding the new information technologies
is diverse and contested, but the terms of this debate are becoming
circumscribed within the general notion that we have become
an "information society." This discourse, in all its
varieties, is shaping our very conception of the new technologies.
At first glance there seems to be a set of beliefs that underpin
this discourse: an economic philosophy that posits information
as the source of value in a global economy; a business logic
that focuses on the accumulation, production and management
of data; media claims that availability and access to information
technologies represent an increase in choice and freedom; political
projections that computer-mediated communication networks can
solve the problems of democracy in the United States; and a
quasi-religious hope that technology can save us from our own
excesses (Balsamo, 1998, 226 ). Although this discourse is rooted
in the mythos of democracy, at the same time powerful interests
are producing an immense infrastructure of technologies that
will determine access to the new media and the manner in which
information resources are allocated.
of the promises and dangers of the new information technologies
(the information infrastructure, internet, digital imaging,
virtual reality, etc.) now saturate our societys public
discussion and the ideological debates surrounding the use of
these technologies will be instrumental in determining the direction
that public and private agencies take in developing an information
infrastructure. This discourse does not circulate in the sphere
of "culture" as a disarticulated set of ideologies,
but rather is linked with the material practices of technological,
scientific and economic formations. These material practices
and discourses are significantly tied together in the attempt
to define and explain the contemporary social formation as "an
information society." This paper is part of a larger project
that will attempt to analyze this discourse in its various locations.
We do not propose to present a comprehensive analysis of the
discourse of the "information society" in all of its
locations and trajectories. Here we will examine this "information
society" discourse in its contemporary manifestations through
analyzing the particular construction of the concept of "information"
itself within the particular institutions of the information
sciences and economic theory, not in order to examine the concept
of "information" as a purely scientific term, but
rather to trace how this concept of "information"
is taken up in the discourse on "the information society."
of the information society propose various analyses for why
this designation fits contemporary society: the widespread development
of informational technologies, the percentage of economic activity
devoted to the processing and distribution of information, the
shift to an occupational structure dominated by information
work, the emergence of networks that redefine spatial arrangements
through the flow of information, the saturation of the cultural
environment with media representations, etc. None of these theories
can do entirely without a conception of information and the
construction of knowledge as meaningful activities that provide
for decision-making, symbolic representation, emotional intensity
and conceptual analysis. In fact, the information society is
being sold to the average citizen as providing access to knowledge,
meaningful dialogue and information essential to everyday decision-making.
But at the same time, even within the marketing of the information
society, the actual nature of the information and knowledge
produced and distributed by information technology remains abstract
and underdefined. Instead, government and corporate pronouncements
focus on the sheer power of the network, on the technological
magic of information machines, on the overall capacity of the
system, on the abstract phenomenon of "being digital."
One needs only to examine the shift in advertising about the
net to see this. When interest in the internet first developed,
corporations such as Microsoft ran ads depicting kids learning
and playing, people emoting and connecting. In a few short years,
net ads have shifted to depictions of complex circuitry with
information represented as a glowing dot traveling through space
and time within the networks of global capitalism. As a Sprint
ad claims, the point of contact is upping ones profits
through the control of abstract flows of information.
of this paper is that both academic and political/economic discourses
on the information society are feed into the instrumental projects
of developing a technological infrastructure and instituting
economic practices for controlling the exchange of informational
products. As such, these projects operate with a conception
of information that brackets its meaning, while allowing "information
as meaning" to remain as an unspoken background that seeps
into their discourse. This discourse and the practices to which
it is connected have profound implications for how the new technologies
will be utilized.
AS KEY WORD
of the word "information" as a descriptive adjective
has exploded to the point of near absurdity: information age,
information society, information economy, information superhighway,
information millennium, information revolution. But what does
this word "information" mean in these constructions
and how did it become the new keyword of our social formations
self-definition? At first, it appears that the definition of
"information" is clear and unproblematic: we all know,
in common sense, what it is. But, immediately, it becomes evident
that we cant exactly specify the term in its everyday
usage, and that the term is being used in some other way when
attached to the words "society, " "age,"
etc. In fact, it appears that "information" is either
used too ambiguously, as a collection place for multiple significations
that are generated in the application of the term to a bewildering
range of different practices; or that "information"
is used too precisely, that is, that its meaning becomes attached
to narrowly specific technological functions, such as those
generated in the field of information science or engineering.
(1983, 642) has noted, the original meaning of the word "information"
derives from the Latin, informare, which means "to
put into form." "Informing" therefore carries
the sense of "imparting learning or instruction" or
more generally conveys the sense "to tell (one) of something."
Thus, "information" refers to the action of informing
or to that which is told. These meanings of the term are carried
along with it wherever it occurs and are the basis of our commonsense
notions of "information." As Webster (1995, 26-7)
points out, the semantic definition of information conveys that
"information is meaningful, it has a subject, it is intelligence
or instruction about something or someone." When we talk
of an "information society" it is these connotations
of "information" that we would expect to be discussing.
it is this commonsense definition of information that is sidestepped
in the fields of cognitive science, information theory, cybernetics,
etc. Here, information does not have a semantic content. In
other words, the dominant conception of information within the
technical, scientific and economic institutions that are instrumental
in defining "the information society," is one in which
information is emptied of any relation to "meaning."
Within the limits of specific disciplines this nonsemantic use
of the term "information" is, at times, applied in
a carefully circumscribed manner, but each of these fields undergo
an extension in which they apply themselves to processes where
the semantic definition of information normally holds sway.
This creates a confusion of levels, one in which meaningful
activities are reduced to non-meaningful ones. In each of these
disciplines the term "information" is applied metaphorically
to processes that involve a flow, impulse, etc. But it seems
unavoidable that some of the "meaning" component of
the term "information" carries over into the characterization
of the processes.
be compared to the circular reasoning that occurs in some work
in Artificial Intelligence. The mind and computer are defined
in a circular loop: the computer thinks like the human mind,
the human mind is like a computer. Just so, in the information
sciences, phenomena such as activating impulses, signal transmissions,
etc. are analyzed as informational. Then the feedback loops,
binary switching, etc. of these machine actions are used to
analyze the semantic informational processes of human communication.
I want to be clear that I am not claiming that there are no
interconnections between these phenomenon, nor that the common
sense definition of "information" is somehow superior.
Rather, the problem is the way in which "information"
itself becomes a master concept. We will argue that these definitional
ruminations are not insignificant quibbling but rather, are
crucial to the formation of the "information society,"
since the very conception and forging of this construction is
rooted in the technological and economic formation of a conjuncture
of sciences united through the model of information processing.
Again, I am not proposing that all informational sciences can
be lumped into a corporate driven project, nor that abstract
or metaphorical applications of the term "information"
are not useful. Afterall, the extension of concepts into new
domains can fruitfully open up unseen connections that advance
the diversity of knowledge. What I am examining is how easy
it is it elide the metaphorical nature of concepts and begin
to unreflectively apply them to diverse phenomenon in a way
that truncates instead of expands our understanding.
to get a handle on the usage of "information" we need
to situate the term historically within the forces of technology
and language that have constructed it as the linchpin of our
present social, political and economic terrain. We, first, need
to recognize that historically "information" holds
little significance in Western history as a term of broad definitional
power. Western philosophy, for instance, foregrounds "knowledge"
as its keyword within the broader project of epistemological
grounding (tied to the material projects of the domination of
nature and the conceptualization of the human individual as
juridical, political and economic subject). "Information"
emerges as a key word only in the mid-20th century as industrial
capitalism grapples with the incorporation of "intelligence"
into its machine tools, the production of consumption through
the "intelligence gathering" of marketing, and as
modern scientific thought re-forms itself around the technology
of the computing machine. Within the context of these economic
and technological developments the stance toward epistemological
questions shifts away from preoccupations with referentiality,
transcendental grounds and rational synthesis towards the project
of building a cognitive science in which the concern is not
with representation by knowledge but representation of knowledge
(Machlup & Mansfield, 1983, 34). Although, as we will see,
there are connections between cognitive science, information
theory, and cybernetics to philosophies of mind dating as far
back as Descartes, we should not underestimate the significance
of the influence of these "information processing"
fields on the reconceptualization of information and knowledge.
we become an "information" society? Why not a "knowledge"
society, an "intelligence" society, an "understanding"
society, a "communication" society? We should consider
that it may not be helpful at all to distinguish between these
terms in the first place. It may be that the territory that
they enclose are better seen from another territory outside
of this sphere of the projection and reflection of the mind.
That being said, the information sciences have continually distinguished
between information and knowledge. Generally, "information"
and "knowledge" are distinguished along three axis:
1) multiplicity-- Information is piecemeal, fragmented, particular.
Knowledge is structured, coherent and universal. 2) the temporal--
information is timely, transitory, even ephemeral. Knowledge
is enduring and temporally expansive. 3) the spatial-- information
is a flow across spaces. Knowledge is a stock, specifically
located, yet spatially expansive. In summary, information is
conceived of as a process, whereas Knowledge is a state (Machlup,
It can be
seen that within this model the assumption is that information
is the building block underlying the process of knowledge construction.
Information is elemental and takes up a position akin to energy
in the discipline of physics. It is this discovery of the elemental
nature of information within a complex range of phenomena that
serves as the self-defined originary moment of the development
of the information sciences.
Conjunction of Sciences
in the period immediately following the Second World War, information
became the key term that united a diverse number of technical
and scientific disciplines: biology, cognitive science, information
science, computer science, the psychology of the brain, physics,
economics, etc. The exact historical development of the conjuncture
of sciences around the term "information" has not
yet been precisely located. Some scholars believe that the roots
of this conjuncture were first formulated within the discipline
of symbolic logic (in the 1930s) which reoriented logic
away from concerns with the material representation of reality
toward a focus on purely formal criteria and rules. As Pylyshyn
work made precise the notion of formal mechanism or a mechanism
or process that functions without the intervention of an intelligence
or any natural being and yet can be understood without knowing
about any of its physical properties. In making this notion
precise, these studies laid the foundations for a way of conceptualizing
a wide range of problems in many different areas of intellectual
endeavor-- from philosophy of mind and mathematics to engineering,
and including almost every facet of social and biological science"
real takeoff of these disciplines required the intervening necessity
of economic and political forces surrounding World War II and
its aftermath. It is no coincidence, that the same scientists
who formulated the various information sciences and proposed
the primacy of information as the linking element within all
formal mechanisms were directly or indirectly involved in the
war effort and in the development of the resulting technologies
for peacetime economic practices. It is to these pivotal disciplines
that we now turn.
as conceived by Norbert Weiner in the 1940s, is a master
science founded on the issues of control and communication.
It is concerned with self-correcting and self-regulating systems,
be they mechanical or human; and most importantly posits that
the functioning of the living organism and the operation of
the new communication machines exhibit crucial parallels in
feedback, control, and the processing of information (Gardner,
1987, 20-21). Cybernetics has evolved into a field of competing
interpretations, some of which attempt to construct open-systems.
However, the strain of cybernetics taken up by the dominant
economic and scientific institutions has produced, at best,
a contradictory stance toward open-systems. The glowing utopian
image of this cybernetics, with its claim of two-way reciprocal
interaction, is belied by its conceptualization within "human
engineering", "focusing on mechanisms of steering,
governing, or control" (Pfohl, 1997, 116).
evidenced in the success of cybernetic conceptualizations in
the development of military targeting and communication machines
which were extended to other spheres of broader significance.
For example, cybernetisist, Waddington, "facilitated a
general transference of methods associated with operations research
in military organizations to the emergent field of molecular
biology, where a new image of the body as an information-driven
communications system was already beginning to take hold"
(Pfohl, 121). This extension of cybernetics fit well with Wieners
overall goals. As Roszak notes, "Wiener was claiming nothing
less than that, in perfecting feedback and the means of rapid
data manipulation, the science of cybernetics was gaining a
deeper understanding of life itself as being, at its core, the
processing of information" (1986, 9).
to serve as the basis of this new science, information must
be conceived as discrete bundles, physically decontextualized
and fluidly moving. For ultimately, the control processes of
complex systems are a matter of regulated feedback which requires
that processes of communication be conceived of as exchanges
(This serves as the basis for the notion of a cybernetic capitalism,
a capitalism dependent to a far greater extent on the control
of exchanges at their molecular level). Within this cybernetic
model, feedback is not free and equal; rather it is governed
by the systems constant battle with entropy, chaotic disorganization
or noise (Pfohl, 126). Thus, information becomes a means of
mapping space and time through the control of communicative
feedback, a defining characteristic of information that we will
see repeated in other disciplines such as economics and communication
science. Further, economic and life processes are brought together
as formally ruled by the same information processes, equally
part of a natural system of spatial and temporal flows.
Theory begins in application to mathematical modeling, but eventually
becomes proposed as an extensive model encompassing cybernetics,
information science, and indeed all other disciplines. Most
significant for this analysis is the manner in which systems
theory has been applied to the social sciences. Within the systems
theory view, one major model of information is what Langlois
(1983, 586) calls the "oil-flow" model. Here, information
is seen as an undifferentiated fluid that courses through societys
communication circuits. This fluid gets stored up in a tank,
which we can then measure as the amount of knowledge a society
has. This tank then serves as a reservoir for control.
theory (like cybernetics), information and control are closely
related concepts. As Finley (1987, 163) notes, "the role
of systems knowledge practices is to find order in the world,
to find universal laws that circumscribe the system, and never
to yield to the appearance of chaos." This view obviously
has resonated with those who see the information infrastructure
as a means to increase the capacities of corporations to monitor
and control the market (the measure of their knowledge). In
fact, we shall see that information economics derives its terms
from systems theory and the other information sciences. In contradistinction
to its model of information as commodity, it also treats information
as a lubricant that functions within the feedback mechanism
through which markets are controlled. But as Giddens notes,
the model of feedback derived from General Systems Theory is
inadequate for dealing with the self-regulation of human action.
specific version of cybernetic information control has quite
recently been introduced into the social sciences by Parsons.
Here it is assumed that hierarchies of control can be discerned
in social systems, in which the controlling elements are values,
with social, economic relations... But, values cannot anyway
serve as information regulators in the sense which
is demanded in systems theory: as control centres which process
information so as to regulate feedback" (1977, 116).
systems theory reduces the self-reflexive monitoring of action
among human agents to principles of teleology that function
within mechanistic systems.
points out this reduction in systems theory is tied to the oil-flow
model of information. Contrary to this model, he posits that
information is not homogeneous: "meaning is a matter of
form not of amount; and the value or significance of a message
depends as much on the preexisting form of the receiver as on
the message itself. Information is stored as knowledge in a
system not as oil is stored in a tank, but by virtue of the
change that information makes in the very organization of the
system itself" (1983, 593). Such a model of information
would imply that disorganization is an integral process within
the very formation of knowledge, because, if non-mechanistic
change is an inherent factor in organization itself, then the
disruptive potential of chaos is also ever-present in the system.
approach to information has developed within the parallel fields
of computer science, informatics and the specific areas of cognitive
science that approach artificial intelligence from the perspective
of computation. Cognitive science is "the domain of inquiry
that seeks to understand intelligent systems and the nature
of intelligence" and it does so through an analysis of
the human mind in terms of information process (Simon, 1980,
35). Philosophical arguments about the nature of knowledge are
mirrored in the cognitive sciences. As Gardner notes, the classic
arguments between rationalists (where the mind exhibits powers
of reasoning which it imposes on the world) and empiricists
(where mental processes either reflect, or are constructed on
the basis of , external sensory impressions) are revived in
the debate between cognitivists and behaviorists. Cognitivists
generally embrace some form of rationalism (Gardner, 1987, 53).
The problem for rationalists, since Descartes, is bridging the
gap between the rational mind and the mechanical body. As Gardner
posits, Descartes is arguably the first cognivist, basing his
theory on an "information processing" device:
diagram showed how visual sensations are conveyed, through the
retinas, along nerve filaments, into the brain, with signals
from the two eyes being reinverted and fused into a single image
on the pineal gland. There, at an all-crucial juncture, the
mind (or soul) could interact with the body, yielding a complete
representation of external reality" (1987, 51).
we can move rather easily to interpreting the information flows
within a machine to those that circulate in the mind/body.
current wave of information science is not so far away from
the traditional logic of science, where "the input of data,
the raw material, is worked over by the axiomatic of the system,
yielding an output of truths, goods or wealth" (Feenberg,
1991, 111). All of this occurs outside of the inhabited world
of human action; it is a process in which information can be
handled as the formal expression of knowledge and thus, as something
that can exist independently of human beings (Leeuwis, 1993,
29). As Machlup and Mansfield show, the computer science model
of information treats information in the same manner as physics
treats energy: it focuses on the representation, storage, manipulation
and presentation of information within automatic processing
systems. "As physics uses energy transforming devices,
computer science uses information transforming devices"
model, computer science is able to transpose terms that apply
to computers with those that apply to the human brain, and vice
versa. Thus, terms such as memory, storage, thinking, bit, content,
transmission, etc. are applied with no distinction to communication
between machines, between humans, or between humans and machines
(Leeuwis, 1993, 31). The model of communication applied within
this information transforming process is the basic sender-signal-channel-receiver
model. Lakoff refers to this as the conduit metaphor of communication
which is based in a general metaphor for mind,
which ideas are taken as objects and thought as the manipulation
of objects. An important part of this metaphor is that memory
is storage. Communication in that metaphor is the
following: ideas are objects that you can put into words (or
store as bits), so that language is seen as a container for
ideas, and you send ideas in words over a circuit, a channel
of communication to someone else who then extracts the ideas
from the words" (Lakoff, 1995, 116).
implies that the ideas can be extracted and can exist independently
of people, in a computer, for example. As a result, information
and its processing (information worked up through manipulations,
reorderings, hierarchies) can exist in a disembodied form (It
should be noted that such a conception is belied by other strains
of cognitive science itself that have shown how reasoning processes
are embodied, that in fact, human beings think through schemas
that are spatially mapped in accordance with body orientations).
the computer science model of information separates information
and knowledge on the three axis we noted earlier. Information
is present in discrete transitory bits which flow across spatial
domains. But in this model, knowledge is not only the output
of the system, it is built into the system in the form of programs.
Thus, knowledge is encoded into bits in a form that works with
the hardware and software of the computer system, the implication
being that the knowledge stored up in the computer processes
raw data into information. The computers processor becomes
in effect, Descartes pineal gland.
In the late
1930s, Claude Shannon, usually credited as the founder
of information theory, "saw that the principles of logic
(in terms of true and false propositions) can used to describe
the two states (on and off) of electromechanical relay switches.
Shannon suggested that electrical circuits (of the kind in a
computer) could embody fundamental operations of thought"
(Gardner, 1987, 21). In the 1940s, working on the engineering
problems of signal transmission, Shannon and Weaver further
developed the key notion of information theory: that information
can be thought of as divorced from the specific content of a
message. Instead, information can be defined as simply the "single
decision between two equally plausible alternatives" (21).
As a result, the basic unit of information is designated as
"the bit." This conception of information becomes
crucial within the other information sciences in that it exceptionalizes
information. As Wiener explains, "Information is information,
not matter or energy" (1961, 132).
conception of information is clearly evident in the thinking
of those general theorists who have attempted to define "the
information society" (Bell, Toffler, Piore, Porat, etc.).
As Webster describes it,
for quantitative evidence of the growth of information, a wide
range of thinkers have conceived it in the classic terms of
Claude Shannon and Warren Weavers (1964) information theory.
In this theory information is a quantity which is measured in
bits and defined in terms of the probabilities of occurrence
of symbols. This approach allows the otherwise vexatious concept
of information to be mathematically tractable" (Webster,
again, takes on an elemental quality, akin to matter or energy.
As Stonier (1990, 21) puts it, "information exists. It
does not need to be perceived to exist. It does not need to
be understood to exist. It requires no intelligence to interpret
it. It does not have to have meaning to exist. It exists."
be noted that Shannon never intended his model to be extended
into characterizations of information in domains where its content
was in question. In fact, he suggested that communication might
be the better term, since it did not necessarily imply a sender
and receiver of a message, as in the usage "communicable
disease." But "information" stuck and became
the keyword across the disciplines we have been discussing.
Information, so defined, has become a singular element with
unique properties that can thus, be separated from the social
processes underlying it. As Webster points out, "If this
definition of information is the one which pertains in technological
and spatial approaches to the "information society"
(where the quantities stored, processed and transmitted are
indicative of the sort of indexes produced) we come across a
similar elision of meaning from economists definitions.
Here it may not be in terms of bits, but at the
same time the semantic qualities are evacuated and replaced
by the common denominator of price" (1995, 28). Thus, there
is a definitional isomorphism between information as the flow
of discrete bits and information as commodity.
and technical fields converged around "information",
its spatial-temporal location is further and further displaced
as it becomes conceived of as a sheer "existence,"
a form or process evident across phenomena as diverse as electronic
signal flows, human brain functions, and the genetic code of
DNA. As Roszak notes, "In the course of the 1950s,
information had come to be identified with the secret of life.
By the 1970s, it had achieved an even more exalted status.
It had become a commodity-- the most valuable commodity in business"
with these developments in the information sciences, neoclassical
economic theory has attempted to incorporate "information"
into the lexicon of its discipline. In fact, unbeknownst to
most communication scholars, the neoclassical economic tradition
has attempted to claim that information and communication processes
are best explained with the categories of neoclassical economics,
and are in fact, subsets of these economic processes. Babe characterizes
this as economic imperialism, in which a diverse set of phenomena
are grafted into economic analysis, because, in the economists
reasoning, "all behavior involving scarce resources can
be illuminated by neoclassical price theory" (1994, 41).
Ultimately, it is claimed that information activity is a transactional
activity; one that, at its core, can be defined as simply coterminous
with commodity exchange. In order to carry out this grafting
of information into the logic of exchange processes, economics
needs a definition of information that can be dealt with under
the terms of equivalency, and which can yield measurements in
terms of exchange and price. The commonsense definition of information,
in which information is a heterogeneous object or process, does
not comply with these needs.
As a result,
neoclassical theory actually begins with the notion of "information"
as defined within the information sciences and transmutes it
into economic terms. As we have already noted, economists empty
information of its semantic content. In this regard, price becomes
equivalent to "the bit," in that information is reduced
to a homogeneous form characterized as discrete atomic units.
Thus, the meaning (content) of information is set aside as extraneous
to the determination of its value in terms of quantitative measures.
Further, as in cybernetics, information is at the same time
conceived of as a flow ; but here, this is seen within spatial
and temporal dimensions defined in terms of the market. Information
is the "energy" in the system that functions within
the control processes of cybernetic capitalism. Like systems
theory, information is conceived as an element of control within
a complex system. The enemy of the smoothly functioning market
system is disorganization, noise, chaos.
focuses on the exceptional nature of information, an "exceptionalism"
which is defined in terms of the preceding concepts. Information
is so distinct, so unique within the processes of capitalism
that it requires a different form of analysis and, in fact,
takes up a unique existence within capitalism. The positing
of a set of "inherent characteristics" of information
leads to the notion that information production is radically
different from all other forms of production. Thus, information
supplants capital and labor (Schiller, 1996, 167). Kenneth Boulding
extends this claim in "substituting the triad know-how,
energy and matter for the traditional land, labor and capital
as basic factors of production. He contends that similarities
become evident in developmental processes of biological, societal
and physical systems" (Babe, 1994, xi). The information
present in the coded patterns of DNA is the same information
that directs energy in the transformation of materials into
products. Information is the secret of life-- genetic and economic.
However, as we shall see, information, though exceptional, is,
also, simply a commodity. So, information is unique enough to
displace Marxs categories of analysis of capitalism, but
not so unique as to fall outside of the purview of neoclassical
categories of price, supply and demand, and exchange (we will
see in a moment why information has this double existence in
neoclassical economic theory).
Forms Of Information In Information Economics
takes up at least two functions in contemporary economic processes:
1) it is a resource that provides input into the production
process of other commodities and into the control of the market
itself. 2) it is an output that is materialized and sold as
a commodity. Within both incarnations, information is taken
as a nonsemantic entity or activity whose "work" can
and the Reduction of Uncertainty
One of the
preeminent "information society" proponents, Daniel
Bell, declares that "By information I mean data processing
in the broadest sense; the storage, retrieval, and processing
of data becomes the essential resource for all economic and
social exchanges. These include: data processing of records...
data processing for scheduling... data bases" (quoted in
Schiller, 1996, 168, ). Bell is pointing to the function of
information in providing the basis for knowledge of the market,
one of the key components of cybernetic capitalism. Up until
the 1970s this was the key focus of information economics--
determining informations place in market performance.
As Lamberton (1994, 12) notes, "It (information) reduced
uncertainty for the firm and for the consumer, both of whom
could therefore make decisions. This was basically the information-as-oil
viewpoint." Here, information is the lubricant in the market.
This notion of reducing uncertainty fit well with the information
sciences viewpoint of information as defined by its existence
as a bit-- in Shannons formulation, a single decision
between two equally plausible alternatives.
referred to in these formulations is the uncertainty of price.
Babe documents how the neoclassical economists grafted information
into the price system:
(1945) too lauded the informational properties of the price
system, viewing prices as quantitative indices (or
values) . Each index or price Hayek contended should
be understood as concentrated information reflecting the significance
of any particular scarce resource relative to all others. The
index of price borne by each commodity, Hayek enthused, permits
autonomous economic agents to adjust their strategies without
having to solve the whole puzzle [input-output matrix] ab
intitio "(1994, 47).
then, are information. Here, information is reduced to the sphere
of problem solving and decisionistics, a sphere that obviously
points to the computer as the processing device that promises
to impose order and hierarchy onto quantities of atomized items.
Krippendorf, discussing information in the context of general
communication processes, defines information in much the same
way: it is a change in an observers state of uncertainty.
He then makes the same move we have seen time and time again--
information is compared to energy. "Energy and information
are measures of work. But whereas energy is a measure of the
physical work required to transform matter of one form into
matter of another, information is a measure of the (intellectual)
work required to distinguish, to a degree better than chance,
among a set of initially uncertain possibilities" (1984,50).
the uncertainty of a situation involves delimiting the possible
choices by considering them in terms of the probabilities of
outcomes. For the information economists this means that information
is only information when it reduces the complexity of the decision-making
process. Thus, business depends upon the preprocessing of information,
controlling the amount of information by eliminating the unnecessary.
As Gandy notes, for Beniger, this serves as a definition of
rationalization within economic bureaucracy, "that is,
rationalization, as preprocessing might be defined as the destruction
or ignoring of information in order to facilitate its processing"
(1993, 42). Once again, information is linked to control, but
this time through a process of standardization which closes
off certain paths through which the information might flow.
If information still has a semantic content, which it does appear
to in this case, then the preprocessing of information shuts
off certain paths of meaning, it territorializes and closes
off certain possible forces and practices. In economic practices
this facilitates routinization, the reduction of skills, stereotyped
reactions, the pre-formation of demand and the channeling of
information resources into methods for structuring production,
distribution and consumption.
In the second
economic definition of information it is conceptualized as a
commodity. This is a key element within the discourse of the
"information society", for the dominant conceptualization
of this new form of sociality is described as one in which information
work and information products have replaced the industrial form.
In addition, it is the vast array of information commodities
produced within the information economy that is the key selling
point of this digital age. The selling of information commodities
requires considerations of their value as "meaning"
to the consumer (whether corporate or private individual). The
originality, innovation, and power of particular information
commodities, as well as their packaging seems to be a major
part of marketing these products. However, ironically, it is
these very claims that produce problems for information economics,
for its homogeneous conception of information falls flat when
confronted with the heterogeneous qualities of information commodities.
The economic rationality behind the information society/economy
discourse would like to conceive of all forms of information
as homologous "in the monetary sense of easy conversion
from one form into another" (Boyle, 1996, 7).
is for information commodities to escape any particular form,
i.e., for the informational message to float free of any specific
medium and to thus, become transferable into as many contexts
as possible. Thus, the information society/economy promises
a convergence of technologies where print, audio, video, film,
and graphic representation appear and reappear in various forms
and formats. The first form of economic information, the reduction
of uncertainty, creates the conditions for the production of
such commodities. This is what Boyle calls "perfect information"--
free, complete, instantaneous and universally available-- an
uninhibited flow of information that serves as the lubricant
for market activity. But information also needs to be treated
"as a good within the perfect market, something
that will not be produced without incentives. This requires
a restriction on the form of information-- it must be conceived
as a finite good, one whose exchange value can be determined
and "deliberately restricted in its availability"
(Boyle, 1996, 29).
(1997, 17) explains, "the special properties of knowledge
(its lack of material substance; the ease with which it can
be copied and transmitted) mean that it can only acquire exchange
value where institutional arrangements confer a degree of monopoly
power on its owner". The problems for information economics
are further laid out by Morris-Suzuki (62): information can
be copied and reproduced at low cost, it is never consumed,
determining its price is nearly impossible to calculate because
the buyer cannot know the content until they have bought it,
the monopoly of particular information is extremely difficult
to maintain (it tends to "flow back into the public domain").
These properties are clearly illustrated by the example of software,
where the lines between the public stock of social knowledge,
the originary "intelligence" behind the design, and
the encoding of this onto a "hard" object are nearly
producer of the commodity the meaning of the product is inessential
within the exchange process itself, its existence as information
consists of the fact it can be encoded, reproduced and exchanged
as a commodity. The producer would sell each bit of information
at the same price if they could and, in fact, they attempt to
do just this in certain sectors of the information economy.
However, from the consumers perspective it is the meaning
of the information that is being purchased (at least this is
a major factor in the demand for consumer entertainment/information
products), and so, the distinction of products in terms of the
knowledge they contain is always pertinent to the producer.
But ultimately, the use value of commodities in terms of their
meaning complicates the measurement of value in terms of price.
Thus, the producer must come up with strategies to control the
exchange of these information commodities. There are a number
of possible strategies in this regard:
and make equivalent the various products. The modern video store
illustrates this principle, where the informations value
seems to be determined by its ability to occupy a certain amount
of the consumers disposable time. The only distinction
made in the products pricing is that the most recent information
is given a slightly higher value.
the information flow, not the specific contents-- The World
Wide Web, at the present time, illustrates this strategy. The
consumer purchases access to information as an abstraction (in
most cases). It is this vision of having access to a flow of
information that encourages society as a whole to conceive of
information along the same lines as the information scientists
and economists: information as a flow of discrete bundles (bits)
(thus, the pay per call, pay per view, pay per bit model) (Mosco,
ephemeral information that must be consumed over and over--
In the digital networks information appears, disappears and
reforms, requiring a continual return on the part of the consumer.
A reverse way of looking at this is through the lens of the
"perpetual innovation" economy.
the information in as many forms as possible-- Once produced,
the meaning of the product (such as a film) becomes secondary,
its exchange value is determined by its reproducibility within
a variety of packages and in a variety of markets. This repackaging
makes calculating value much more manageable .
standardize (yet marginally individuate), format the content--
information processing enhances the ability to reduce information
to schemas and predetermined patterns, again serving to bracket
the significance of the informations value as meaning.
the consumers behavior-- the information industry automates
the process of marketing, enabling the production of personal
behavior databases. The use of information processing and modeling
to predetermine audience response is an example of this process.
these strategies, in themselves, can solve the problems of determining
the value of information or the problems of producing profit
in a "knowledge economy." As Davis and Stack (1997,
132) note, "the easy replicability of the digital product
poses a quandary for capitalists-- how to deliver digital products
while still enforcing ownership and control of distribution
when copying is virtually free and exact." The answer,
currently, lies in the reworking of the laws of "intellectual
property"-- A reworking of the notion of the ownership
of content that is based in the definitions of information that
we have been examining. The ownership rights must be shifted
from the content as "idea"-- the meaning constructed
within and through the social knowledge of the public-- to the
"expression"-- the reworking and reordering of that
knowledge (see Boyle, 1996, 57).
this process accumulated social knowledge is privately appropriated
for profit. As Morris-Suzuki explains, out of informal and formal
social knowledge (publicly paid for)
produce private knowledge, from which they extract monopoly
profits. Eventually, the monopoly is eroded as patents and copyright
expire, or as new products and techniques become widely known
and imitable. Information seeps back into the expanding pool
of social knowledge, but, in the meanwhile, the corporation
has accumulated increased resources which enable it to move
forward into a new cycle of private knowledge creation"
copyright and intellectual property laws will help cement this
process and extend its scope. The juridical formation of property
rights will depend on a legal translation of the contradictory
definitions of information that we have analyzed.
the complex processes and problems of the information economy
are clouded in a veil of fetishism. Digital information is conceived
of as an inexorable force that will finally enable a faithful
representation of reality-- both the reality of the external
world and the reality of the processes of the market. Information,
as the digital rendering of the skills and social knowledge
of laborers, is programmed into automatic machinery. Information,
as consumer data, is input into "the difference machine
that sorts individuals into categories and classifications on
the basis of routine measurements (Gandy, 1993, 15). Information,
as measurement of the rise and fall of market fluctuations,
is encoded and processed as feedback crucial for the control
of market chaos. Just as Descartes pineal gland provided
a space for the merging of soul and body, thus enabling the
complete representation of external reality; the computer bridges
the gap between the physical body of actual material relations
and exchanges and the invisible hand(soul) of the market. The
computer is the pineal gland of cybernetic capitalism.
critique of information theory would emphasize the destruction
of meaning that it engenders; the reduction of human thought
to binary switching, when it should instead be thought of as
a public activity-- a social accomplishment; the de-emphasis
on knowledge in favor of information, which blocks critical
and conceptual thinking, for information cannot make sense of
that which has lost it; the reduction of information to the
status of commodity, leading to the appropriation of socially
produced knowledge and further, to the modeling of all human
practices within the logic of exchange.
all valid criticisms and evaluations of information science
and information economics, but they are limited to the sphere
of the projection and reflection of the mind. These analyses
need then to be connected to the sphere of mobility and fluidity,
particularly in relation to the processes of labor. As Negri
put it, informatics becomes accentuated as capital develops
a need for "innovation in the instruments and processes
controlling the circulation and reproduction of the factors
of capital and to the diffuse mechanization involved in the
technological control of socialised work" (1978, 235, 254).
Thus, information becomes the control mechanism within the "workerless
factory," it enables operations to disperse in search of
cheap sources of labor, it enables surveillance of the work
place and automation of formally skilled tasks through the implementation
of "intelligent agents." In short, "the stark
goals of control and reduction in the costs of labor" (254)
are central to the "information society."
information economy is not simply an extension of capital in
a smooth transition from its industrial mode of production,
it is as much a response to loss of control, to disorganization
and noise endemic to the process of accumulation. As Witheford
coordinate its diffused operations and activate its huge technological
apparatus, capital must interlink computers, telecommunications
and media in ever-more convergent systems, automating labor,
monitoring production cycles, streamlining turnover times, tracking
financial exchanges, scanning and stimulating consumption in
the attempt to synchronize and smooth the flow of value through
its expanded circuits (1994, 101).
of information in the disposition of labor and material organization
does not overturn or simply lie beside the analysis of the trajectory
of information as projection of mind, rather it can be seen
to redirect it toward a third trajectory-- a spatial and temporal
science operates with a binary logic of reflection which results
in multiple paths, but these paths are always circumscribed
by laws of combination (Deleuze, & Guattari, 1987). In this
manner the fragmented space and time of information flows is
reordered and directed toward specific objectives. But the objectives
of information processing within the capitalist dynamic are
not end points-- they are aimed at an accumulation of knowledge
that is always an impetus for further accumulation, for multiplying
the flow, opening out into every horizon. But this flow is at
the same time stored up in a central memory which traces the
exact paths of this flow, connecting geographic spaces and matching
up the temporal locations of dispersed market centers. This
central memory system functions through command trees, centered
systems and hierarchical structures that attempt to fix possible
pathways of the network and thus to limit the possible variations
immanent in the network. The definitions of information formulated
within information science and information economics derive
from and serve this modeling of the system. As we have seen,
information defined as nonsemantic discrete bits flowing across
space and then directed and stored substantiates information
as the object of control. Thus, the enemy of the information
scientists and economists is heterogeneity, disorganization,
noise, chaos. They want an uninterrupted flow, but at the same
time a destruction of the unnecessary. This encloses or territorializes
information; it becomes a part of capitalisms mapping
of space and time. But what we have found is that informations
function is precisely to disorganize, interrupt, to remain itself
and at the same time to disperse. Information may, in fact,
be a keyword connecting the phenomenon we have examined, but
not as an element, nor as a content, but as a heterogeneous
remapping of space and time. If the information society is to
be our society, let it be disorganized.
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