Thursday, 17 March 2011

Information in two surprising places

In two successive podcasts from the RSA, I was very struck to hear mention of information systems where I didn't expect them.

First, Martin Simon talked of money as an information system, in that the exchange of money for particular purposes carries with it certain messages. Some of these are current: when I purchase one brand of breakfast cereal instead of another, I am sending a message both to the cereal maker and the supermarket as to my preferences. Some of them are historic: the money I possess and the way it is saved carries messages both about my values and the value society places upon my work. But Martin Simon's work on 'timebanking' also encourages us to view the way we use our time as an information system, in many ways like money but behaving somewhat differently.

Second, Tim Flannery talked of DNA as an information system. It's quite a familiar idea that viewing genetics in terms of DNA is to frame biology as information. But the additional idea for me here is the idea that DNA not just holds information but also processes it.

In work on information with David Chapman, we have often made the point that in today's society (and academia), many phenomena are now framed in informational terms which previously were seen in physical terms. These examples emphasis this trend, but also the importance of the system within which the information sits and is processed.

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