What Information Communicates? Part 1


What Information Communicates? Part 1

In a broader sense, information is processed, structured and organised information designed to serve a purpose. It gives context to other information and allows decision making about important issues. For instance, a single consumer’s sale in a particular restaurant is information it becomes information the restaurant management can use to understand why the most popular or least common dish is served.

Information systems are used in a wide variety of contexts. In the recent past, “information therapy” was associated with the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, and to some extent it still is. The increasing focus on information systems also means that we increasingly deal with meaning and value in the information age. An information booth may provide information about the latest Google maps, but it will not provide any meaningful insight into why people may choose it or what its real value is.

But the new work of these experts is concerned more with meaning and value extraction from large sets of discrete data, such as what food manufacturers in one town ordered last week or the stock prices of specific companies in New Zealand to change by the minute. Instead of providing information that can be measured, they provide information that can be interpreted. This allows decision makers to use meaning to drive their businesses forward, rather than just data. They can then make decisions about the design of products, the provision of services, the pricing of services and the allocation of resources that maximise the potential return on investment.

This brings us back to the original question: what is information? I suggest that it is neither a collection of facts, nor a collection of opinions. Information is a process of selecting and combining facts to form a meaningful meaning. Take, for example, the marketing research that the supermarket Aldi conducted a few years ago about their packaging design. The report concluded that a clear, vibrant, simple and consistent design was the most important factor in making customers buy more goods.

However, we do not need to wait for meaningful information to emerge to understand the importance of it. Take another example from the coffee shop in Connecticut. The owner, having set up the coffee shop twenty years ago, did not recognise the value of using social media to promote the shop. In fact, at least one of the Facebook pages was actually set up by someone who had been hired to manage Facebook marketing in that store. That person did not connect the dots between the design of the packaging and the value of its contents for customers, so his social media efforts did not connect.

We can see how easily information can get twisted and distorted in the process of gathering and transmitting it. By contrast, when information is collected and communicated in an organised, controlled manner, it provides a clearer path to understand its meaning. So let’s all take a cue from Gilgamesh, who may well have known the value of simplicity but had it applied in a way that made life simpler, not more complicated. I am looking forward to seeing the next wave of ‘The Gilgamesh’ (not a pun, although you would be hard pressed to find anything comparable to it in English).