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3. Information Interaction > 3.1. Defining Information

Defining Information

What is information? Consult a dictionary and enter a strange loop of circular definitions resembling the impossible structures of M.C. Escher, shown in Figure 3-1. Data is information is knowledge is information is data. Ask an expert and receive a philosophical treatise on the fine distinctions between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Ask a colleague and they’ll question your sanity. But go ahead anyway. Ask someone to define information. Then poke holes in their definitions. Keep at it. Don’t let them off the hook. I’ll bet it’s easy and fun, in a disturbing sort of way, like shooting fish in a barrel.

Our inability to precisely answer this question speaks volumes about the subject. Information surrounds us. We can cite examples ad infinitum: articles, books, cartoons, databases, encyclopedias, files, gestures, holograms, images, journals, knowledge bases, laws, maps, numbers, ontologies, paintings, quizzes, rules, signs, texts, users, variables, web sites, xeroxes, yaks, and zebras. We use information. We create information. But we can’t draw a circle around the category and agree what’s in and out. Take yaks and zebras for instance. Scholars argue that under the right circumstances, animals can enter the category we call documents. We’ll revisit this bizarre claim later, but for now....


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