Exploring the future of information part 3 – Aristotle on the value of information

The value of information is the level to which it can extend our ability to sense our environment over time and place.

Idea in brief

In this third post I explore a complex question: ‘What is the value of information?’ I have come to the conclusion that to answer this question we have to use the philosophy of Aristotle. More specifically, I discovered that the value of information is the level to which it can extend our ability to sense our environment.

Drawing from my experience as the founder of a digital media company in the 90’s, being an information consultant in the 00’s and working with today’s big data, I first explore the reinvention of the value of information throughout the last three decades. I find that existing theories s do not provide a sufficient answer. The fundamental value of information is not in its application. Rather, the economic theory about ‘making decisions’ reduces the value to choosing between preset options and the business case theory only explains that we have to find value, not how to find it.

To find the value of information I dive deeper into what it means to be a human being. By discovering that Aristotle defines the human soul as a ‘natural sensory body’.,as a result, the value of information is the level to which it can extend our ability to sense our environment of time and place. Applying this theory to existing uses of information, ranging from paper documents to accounting systems, I come to the conclusion that this not only provides a much better explanation of what the value of information is, but that it also gives us a new way in getting more value out of new technology.

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Exploring the future of information part 1

Introduction: The rise and deception of post-modernism

This is the first post in a series in which I explore the future of information. In these posts I combine a variety of concepts ranging from the impact of the philosophy of Aristotle on using information to the Internet of Things.

The introduction explores the deception of post-modernism and how it relates to the future of information. Upcoming posts are:

2. Why ancient Egyptian building concepts should not be applied to using information.
3. Aristotle on the value of information.
4. Consumerization of Information
5. Consumer Data Governance
6. The right app-platform for the Internet of Things
7. The stars in the future field of information technology.

“The future of information” might be one of the most pretentious titles for a series of blog posts. I came up with this title after reading an article in F@stCompany called ’10 Tips From Boing Boing On Making Online Content Sing’. Since I wrote my previous post more then a year ago I felt I definitely needed to use some ‘singing content’. The title is based on tip nr. 4, “get an attitude”. I promise, however, that the content of this series will adhere to the concepts of good Storytelling. These posts will be based on my own stories and ideas about the future of information.

It seems like all current articles or blog post start with a famous quote. Most popular are quotes from Steve Jobs, as if just by quoting the Apple guru will make any piece of text more respectable. Trying to find a quote that is as pretentious as the title of this series I remembered a Mac OS application. This application presented you with a new famous quote every time you restarted your computer. I must admit I have seen this software only once, when my cousin bought a second-hand computer for his mother. He bought it at an Apple event in the mid-90’s from a Filemaker salesman. This was during the ‘sabbatical’ years of Jobs from Apple and most people believed there was little future for Macs. The floor size of the exhibitors hall had been reduced by half from the previous year and Filemaker had a clear strategy of moving their database product to the Windows platform. The salesperson might have thought that selling his Mac made more business sense than selling Apple compatible products. After bringing it to my cousins’ mother we booted the machine to see if we had to clean it up. In addition to the pictures that my cousin deemed unfit for his mother, we noticed that the startup screen had been replaced by software showing a quote from a famous philosopher. We immediately removed both pictures and software. Remembering using quotes as a cheap sales tactic, I decided to use a more personal story as an introduction.

Like all 20 something’s I (re)invented ‘post modernism’. This might sound pretentious as well, but it is not. From my experience, all adolescents at some point in their lives come to the conclusion that ‘all truths are relative’. I distinctly remember when I had my ‘revelation’. When I was 22 my parents took my brother and me on a four-week vacation to Japan. The last city we visited was Kyoto, and at the end of our trip we were completely templed-out. So instead of visiting yet another beautiful ancient temple we went to the Miho museum. This is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful museums in the world. The art is not particularly exciting and I have almost no memory of the paintings and sculptures I saw. The museum itself however left a lasting impression. The entrance is through a pedestrian tunnel that takes you from an ordinary bus station to the museum building that is literally carved out of a mountain. It must have been the lighting in the museum, which feels like you can actually touch a ray of sunlight-I vaguely remember looking at a painting painted by an Russian artists during the communist era of that country-that I came to the conclusion that people’s belief systems are formed by earlier experiences and that the way people see and judge the world is therefore also based these experiences. As a result people see the world through their own lens, and behold the (re)invention (by my 22-year-old self) of post modernism. Two years later I came to the conclusion, like most people, that this insight is useless. The scene in which I had this insight could be described as the opposite from the one above, as it was the ‘not so clean’ kitchen in my student apartment. Nevertheless, no less true, I found out that both ends of the spectrum, complete dogma and completely individual, are so self evident that they are useless, in and of themselves, to explain anything.

Now what do the rise and deception of post-modernism have to do with the future of information? For that I have to go to a more recent museum visited. This will be my last museum story, I promise. After a long renovation the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam reopened. A couple of days ago I revisited the museum, and I was especially drawn to the paintings related to the magazine De Stijl. De Stijl was founded in 1917 in the Netherlands and has had many famous contributors, including the painter Piet Mondrian and architect Gerrit Rietveld. Being Dutch myself I have long had an interest in the painters from ‘De Stijl’, but being redrawn to them I wondered what got me so exited. According to its Wikipedia entry the members of De Stijl aimed for a radical reform of the art to keep pace with the technical, scientific and social changes in the world. After recent technical innovations in information technology, like tablets, smartphones, cheap sensors or technology related to big data I believe that it is worthwhile to aim for a conceptual view on the future of information. Now, the magazine De Stijl was founded many years before the creation of post-modernism and is attributed to have had a significant influence in Dutch modernism. Likewise the ‘big-data’ movement, which almost like a modernistic movement is highly technology driven is being countered by almost post-modernistic ideas that it all depends on the context in which technology is used. This however does not do justice to the potential lasting effect of this technology. Both sides are so self evident that they are useless in explaining anything. So while exploring the future of information I will do my best to present a nuanced view and find the middle ground between new information technological development an the context in which information is applied.

The series continues with:
Part 2 Why ancient Egyptian building concepts should not be applied to using information.
Part 3 Aristotle on the value of information.

Modified on April 2, 2013 Added links to parts 2 and 3 in reference to future posts.