This is the last of four parts of a talk originally scheduled this week at Reboot 9.0 in Copenhagen. Links to the others follow this post.
With the rise of mass media, information flow quickly exceeded the attention capacity of humans. Information has value to many (e.g., American Idol) or to a few (e.g., this weblog), but if you don’t have the attention or the interest or the need for that information, it’s really high-entropy “crud,” not information at all. So now we have a subjective definition of information.
Only among humans has there been a power curve of information growth such that managing a surplus of information becomes a problem for our species – maybe the central problem. Or, to quote a popular version of science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon’s Law, “Ninety percent of everything is crud.” Of course, each of us has a different standard for the useful 10 percent – hence, the secret of Chris Anderson’s long tail meme describing the power law distribution of content popularity.
In response, in the recent human past, we have developed information about information – metadata (e.g., the library card) – and very recently we’ve developed a powerful peered network – the Web. We’re learning now how to dynamically add metadata to nodes on the Web to make them more valuable with each usage. These techniques are often subsumed under the Web 2.0 label, but they date at least from the start of Amazon.com. This is the “meta” epoch of information – the “selfish Web” where each user can find low-entropy value. And, in contrast to the media epoch, both dissemination and origination are democratized.
Is it our ability to individualize information – to live within multiple communities of interest – that makes us human today? When this, too, exceeds our attention limits, what will be the next means of extracting value from disorder?