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<nettime> Information cannot be free
josh zeidner on Tue, 14 Aug 2001 16:34:00 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Information cannot be free

Information is an a widely misunderstood feature of
modern society.  It is seen as absolute and objective,
however, neither of these are the case.  As Shannon
pointed out, the relationship between information and
noise is fundamentally paradoxial.


I will offer the reader a short introduction to the
work of Shannon.  Shannon was basically beset with the
problem of designing error-free transmission through a
given physical medium( telephone wires ).  What he
discovered is that:

1) Information, or a messages percieved as informative
content ulitmately depends on the reciever.  There is
no objectively informative message.  For instance if a
lecture is given by a American professor on Economics,
different information will be recieved by, for
instance, an english speaking Economics student, an
english speaking Art student, and a non english
speaking person.  The quality of the information
depends entirely on the formulations of the recipient.

2) The more information a sender attempts to pack into
a message, the more tendency it has to be percieved as
noise.  For instance, acronyms are a popular
way to con-dense a message.  In example the message: 
"NLP is a very hot field at this time."  If it were
recieved by someone who had no idea what what Natural
Language Processing was( or Neuro-Linguistic
programming ) the message would be meaningless noise-
discarded by the perceptory apparatus of the reciever.
 We are by no means limited by acronyms, no real field
of study would be possibly without this condensing or
abstracting mechanism.

3) The more redundancy a message contains, the more
likelihood that it will be recieved as information. 
This is a more complicated phenomenon to illustrate in
terms of literary messages.  If you are familiar with
communication engineering, this can be illustrated by
the "checksum" value contained within every packet or
quantum of information.  The checksum is used by the
recipient to make sure the information contained
within is valid.  If found to be corrupt, it is
and often the source is re-interrogated ). 
Geneticists believe that the highly redundant nature
of our own DNA is an example of this rule in effect.


If you take the above principles to thier fullest
extent, you will likely begin to notice thier
paradoxical nature.  The more information I attempt to
send, the more potential for noise( anti-information
or entropy ).  The more I try to prevent noise, the
less information( redundancy is a lack of information,
redundancy is the lack of information ) I encapsulate
in the message.

Now this brings us to the issue of communication
networks.  It seems that the thesis of "media
engineering" is to allow the so called "free flow of
information"( the popular hacker mantra ).  As I
illustrated above , the complete free flow of
information would end up as noise( this is evident but
conveniently ignored by the hacker culture ).  It
almost seems as if the proponents of this theory
believe that the so called "lies" or false information
would enevitably burn themselves off in some kind of
semiotic state-change, as if misinformation(
which implies deliberate falsification ) were the
product of the said obstruction of the free flow of
data.  The meaning of "misinformation" or lies is
apparently not directly related to the structure of
communication.  ( "the truth can be found in a lie" :)


If we accept the above terms, that the free flow of
information IS NOT THE IDEAL, then of course we begin
to contemplate the realm of censorship.  Censorship is
not an altogether detrimental thing.  Even the most
so-called liberal parties participate in the activity
of censorship.  Without such selective limiting of
data, there would be no coherence, and therefore
noise.  In the most common form of internet
correspondance, the Listserv( or newsgroup ), the
owners of the
lists( whose motives range from artistic to stricly
commercial ) have to constantly wrestle with the
dynamic of free-flow vs.  censorship.  In the former
situation, we have the inevitable "flame-war" an
explosive sematic feedback phenomenon, ultimately
uncondusive to any kind of useful constructive
discourse. In the latter situation, we have nothing
but data put in-formation by the moderator, with no
forum for interchange( this is often a situation that
highly critisized ).

Finally, the purpose of this essay is to dispell the
popular "information should be free" rubric, to show
that our reality is merely the interplay of these two
forces:  noise, and information( or as termed in
previous essays communication and information ).  We
cannot base social policies on this platform, and it
utterly futile to try to realize it( Freenet, ect.  ).
 Often times, social inequality is blamed on the
percieved obstruction to the access to information.
Social inequality, I hypothesize, is based on other
unknown factors( social inertia? ).

--- patrick lichty <voyd {AT} voyd.com> wrote:
> Good or bad - euphamisms...

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