As with technological progress, the amount of information at our disposal has grown exponentially. Writing, movable type print, radio, television and now this newfangled Interweb shower us with information, quite literally: the world is a low-frequency lightshow of all the radiowaves carrying songs, discussions, news -- information. A lot has been said about Information Technology, but most of it was about the technology carrying this information, without worrying about what information is, or rather what it is not.
A fact is not information.
A fact becomes information when an informer informs an informed, e.g. "It's raining" isn't information until, for instance, I call you to tell you that it's raining.
The military make a very important distinction between information, which is the raw material, and intelligence, which is information after it's been distilled by three techniques:
- rating of the source,
- rating of the information, and
- cross-checking of the information.
This threefold control gives intelligence a semblance of objectivity: an NSA analyst overhears me calling you to say it's raining. He's never gotten false information from me; besides, we're in October, so rain is likely; and the guy next door also says it's raining. The analyst therefore concludes that it's safe to bet on rain.
But, even assuming I'm not trying to mislead about the weather, every bit of information is subject to three factors which cannot be wholly trusted:
- The Informant
Maybe I'm a pessimist, who will say there's heavy rain when there's just a dribble, or rain seems likely to me and I haven't even bothered to look out the window. Maybe I don't have very good eyesight and I mistook the guy upstairs watering his plants for actual rain. Maybe I thought it'd be simpler to say "It's raining" when I had seen that "It rained" or I was thinking "It's going to rain."
- The Medium
If I was phoning you, maybe there was static on the line and you misheard me: I was saying "It's ringing", "It's really--" or even "Soy makes you strong" and you heard "It's raining." If I wrote you a postcard maybe I have really bad handwriting and you mistook my g for an r.
- The Informed
Maybe you're such an optimist that you'll go "He's always exaggerating, I'm sure the weather's fine!" Maybe on the contrary you will be worried about the rain and will send me an umbrella and a raincoat to cope with the rain, when I was just saying it's raining because I was feeling blue.
All this means three important things:
- You can never get the truth, all the truth and nothing but the truth out of any piece of information. Errors always abound, even if everyone in the chain of information is of good faith.
- No matter what anyone thinks, not only can unbiased information not exist (in French, "les informations" can mean "information" or "the news"), but every claim to the contrary must be treated with suspicion. It is better to listen first to one side then to the other than to rely on a so-called impartial observer who might be paid by one or sympathize with the other.
- Every witness should have his own impressions of what he witnessed. If the accounts are too alike then something is up. It is the differences between the gospels that make me buy into their honesty and Christians are right to present partially contradictory accounts of what they think is the truth.
The only place where objective information is possible is in science, where the same experiment carried out by different people always gives out the same quantifiable results. Scientific theories are objective if they are confirmed by facts, and those facts are indisputable if any observer could be substituted to the one who gathered the data (within a margin of error).
However, other matters are obviously a far cry from such concerns. Not only are there countless temptations like pride or interest for us to mess with information, and we all alter, more or less consciously, countless facts of our life when we present them; however furthermore it's essential to keep in mind that all information is in itself damaged goods.
So excerce criticism, and when it comes to getting information, use several sources which are open about their sympathies and try to work out your own analysis, rather than relying on one so-called unbiased reporter, who never is. It takes more time and work, but such is the price of free thought.
Redalien says re information: Also, in the context of systems analysis, information is data in context. For example: "3, 4, 6" is data, "3 apples, 4 pears, 6 oranges" is information and "I have 6 oranges but only 3 apples, I should get more apples" is knowledge (The ability to use information to make decisions)
This is very interesting. Information is data that has been qualified : "3 apples."
In computing, you're just applying a qualifier to data, but in real life you can't name something without putting a spin on it: "2 Israelis killed 4 Palestinians" doesn't have the same ring as "2 IDF soldiers shot 4 terrorists" or "4 protesters were murdered by 2 Tsahal commandos." Even not qualifying data is qualifying it, either because you're obfuscating it or because it'll be qualified by context.