What Is Information?

Definitions of Information

Today’s reading has been about the nature of information and some principles that define information.  While my previous reading (before beginning this course) has touched on some of these areas (I have posted previously on another blog about this), it also contained some information that is new to me.

Initially our readings looked at the two key types of definitions of information – the classic and the semantic.  A classical definition of information comes from a computer science background, and is close to the definition of ‘data’ that I will touch on later.  The semantic definition requires that information be meaningful in some way (Fitzgerald, 2018).  For example if I gave you a collection of numbers, that would be data, or information in the classical sense, as they are just numbers with no meaning attached to them.  However if I was to tell you that the seemingly random collection of numbers was actually my phone number, then that would become information in the semantic sense.

The Data-Knowledge Continuum

The data-knowledge continuum is a hierarchy of the quality of information and its assimilation by the possessor of the information.  On its most basic level there is data, which is defined as being raw facts (Rowley & Farrow, 2000). The next step on the hierarchy is information, which is data that has been collected and processed to become meaningful and be communicated (Fitzgerald, 2018).  Following that we have Understanding and Knowledge, understanding indicating that an individual must take action to be able to have this information (Fitzgerald, 2018), and to have assimilated and accommodated this new information in the context of existing information (McLeod, 2015). Finally we have wisdom, which is described as good use of the information (Fitzgerald, 2018). It often quoted that “knowledge consists of knowing that a tomato is a fruit, and wisdom consists of not putting it in a fruit salad” (Kington, 2003, para 2) which is a memorable and amusing way of remembering the difference between wisdom and knowledge.

Inherent Properties of Information

Fitzgerald (2018, para 19) states that there are four inherent properties of information – that it is inconsumable, untransferable, indivisible and accumulative.  Incomsumable means that information is not used up when utilised, unlike food, water or paper.  Untransferable means that although I may pass information on to you, I have not lost anything when I have given the information to you.  Indivisible means that information is part of a ‘set’ and is only true information when it is given as a whole set; when parts are passed on without the set or context, something is lost and it becomes either misinformation or new information in its own right.  This reminds me of the 1990s early educational trend towards the Reggio Emilia approach.  The Reggio Emilia approach originated in Italy, and although aspects of its methods and philosophy were transported to Australia in the late 90s, the implementation (at that point in time) floundered because the basic ‘whats’ were removed from their philosophical and, more significantly, cultural context.  Finally, information is accumulative, meaning that it generally only grows.  Information is passed on and added to and even attempts to destroy information artefacts (physical or digital) may not remove the information entirely as there may still be other copies or repositories of that information (Fitzgerald, 2018).  While I believe this general rule still holds, some information is lost, particularly when it involves cultural and historical knowledge.  In our own backyard, Aboriginal languages have been lost, with the scale of the loss in the hundreds (Edwards, 2008).  Not all knowledge will, by nature, accumulate, so it is not an excuse for complacency.

References

Edwards, M. (2008, Feb 1) Aboriginal heritage threatened through lost languages. ABC News website. Retrieved from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2008-02-01/aboriginal-heritage-threatened-through-lost/1030422

Fitzgerald, L. (2018). 2. The Information Environment. Course Module for ETL401. Retrieved from: https://interact2.csu.edu.au/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_34577_1&content_id=_2060420_1′

Kington, M. (2003, March 28) Heading for a sticky end. The Independent. Retrieved from: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/columnists/miles-kington/heading-for-a-sticky-end-112674.html

McLeod, S. A. (2015). Jean Piaget. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html

Rowley, J. and Farrow, J. (2000) Organizing Knowledge (3rd Ed). Gower Publishing Ltd: England.

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