information density

December 3, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Food, glorious food!
Eat right through the menu.
Just loosen your belt
Two inches and then you
Work up a new appetite.
In this interlude —
The food,
Once again, food
Fabulous food,
Glorious food.

Back in generational differences I wrote

“Even though I am not a fan of monkeying around with food, it did on average increase life expectancies from the baseline of old. So it is with information. Let us just hope that we’ll be smart enough to not allow information to become too fast, over processed and too preserved. Imagine suffering information obesity in the coming days!”

I was discussing early American History with a colleague and good friend of mine and we fast forwarded to the present-day political landscape. What struck us both was the parallel between fast food and availability of information. Perhaps its a glib and tenuous connection, but maybe there is something to this on a few different levels.

Nutritional Density in the context of information intersects quite readily with the current trend toward huge data-centers, their efficiency and management. If we were to parallel the increasing density of information that can be stored and processed in these facilities, there is an obvious parallel to the amount of nutrition produced per parcel of land and mono-cultures in general.  But are we talking nutritionally dense data, or energy dense data? As we look across the broad expanse of processing, it is easy to see that digital media, especially video, consumes vast amounts of storage. It is  visually rich to a consumer, but is the content itself valuable? In other words, we know it is energy dense, but is it nutritionally dense? Is the information we store and process in these data-centers useful for anything else other than to generate media revenues? How much actually feeds positively useful information for our society with factually relevant information? Or has it been processed, and subsequently prepared and packaged by a franchise for quick consumption? Has information really become a fast-food, ready for snacking with twitter or an on-the-go handheld? Has information crossed into entertainment along with the likes of toy laden packaged happy meals? Clearly discussions such as these counter the concept of a free-market information economy and tread dangerously closely to subjective evaluations and censorship. I am not advocating either. However, I do miss the days of relevant insightful journalism, slower yes, but based upon fact. The day that the newsroom became a profit center and not a cost center, was the day that media organizations started their downward spirals into irrelevancy and created opportunities for new technologies to fragment audiences and break the current business models. ‘Slow food’, what about a ‘slow information’ movement?

Information Overload, a term coined by Alvin Toffler refers to an excess amount of information being provided, which makes processing and absorbing tasks very difficult for the individual because sometimes we cannot see the validity behind the information. Consider this in the same context as willingly going to the buffet we call the internet, and loading ourselves with the excess calories of knowledge because it is available on an all you can consume basis. Have we willingly become gluttons of information? Just as food without exercise, have we stopped turning information into useful actionable knowledge?

Perhaps it was all best summarized in the following “As long as the centuries continue to unfold, the number of books will grow continually, and one can predict that a time will come when it will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from the direct study of the whole universe. It will be almost as convenient to search for some bit of truth concealed in nature as it will be to find it hidden away in an immense multitude of bound volumes.” –Denis Diderot, “Encyclopédie” (1755)

The paradox of choice provides a good counterweight to the freedom of choice. As technology makes media more accessible, we have a responsibility to ensure that our energy and resources are not wasted on junk. Food or information alike. Working out how will be our greatest challenge.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

Entry filed under: Media. Tags: , , , , .

eyeballs computing utilities cometh

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