Trying to understand information and its relevance to organizations raises a great many questions. What is the significance of the inform part of the word information? What is the nature of that which is received from external sources and forms us within? What is the nature of that which forms within us that we then feel compelled to transmit to others. How does it form others within when it is received? How does information come into being? What permits it to endure unaltered, yet, be available at any time for use and transformation in infinite ways?
Why and from where came the universal, perpetual urge to receive and transmit information, the incessant desire to communicate? Is it an urge at all, or is it an unavoidable necessity, an integral component of life itself? Could information be the raw material of some dispersed form of intelligence; some fundamental, formative essence that causes dispersed energy to condense into material form; some fundamental part of an inseparably whole universe?
It helps to think what information is not. Certainly information is far more than digits and data. They may be components of it, the shape it sometimes takes. They may be of it, but they are not it. Certainly information is not just another finite, physical entity.
Gregory Bateson, in a rare insight, proposed that "information is a difference that makes a difference." If something is perceived which cannot be differentiated or, if once differentiated, it makes no difference, he asserts it is just noise. Bateson’s perception is helpful, but what about information as it might become, or ought to be? What are its inherent characteristics? How might they change.
Unlike finite physical resources, information is not depleted by use. Information transmitted is gain to the recipient but is no loss to the source. Information can be utilized by everyone without loss to anyone. As far as we know, the supply of information is infinite, therefore, it does not obey any of our industrial age concepts or laws of scarcity. It obeys only concepts and principles of infinite abundance, infinite utilization, and infinite recombination.
Projecting onto information our old notions of property, thus turning it into a method by which one person can extract wealth from another, neither reveals nor changes the extraordinary nature of information. It reveals only the limited nature of man; of his lack of awareness of his internal model of reality; of his reluctance to change it when awareness of it dawns; of the degree to which it shapes beliefs and external behavior.
Information is a miser of energy. It can endlessly replicate, move ubiquitously at the speed of light, and massively condense in minute space, all at minuscule expense of energy, in other words, cost. In countless ways, it is becoming a replacement for our present enormously wasteful use of matter. To the extent that we increase the value of the mental content of goods and services, we can reduce the value of the physical content. We can make them lighter, more durable, more recyclable, more versatile and more transportable.
Information breeds. When one bit of information is combined with another, the result is new information. Information knows no boundaries. It cannot be contained. No matter what constraints we try to put on information, it will become the slave and property of no one. Efforts to make information conform to archaic notions of scarcity, ownership and finite physical quantity – concepts that grew out of the agricultural and industrial age – merely lock mankind into old, mental boxes of constraint and exploitation. Information is ethically neutral. Its immense power is as applicable to destructive, inequitable, violent ends as it is to constructive, equitable, peaceful ends.
The history of modern science has been an effort to divorce the ethical dimensions of life from the physical; to divorce subjective values from objective observations; to divorce spirituality from rationality. The effect has been the deification of the rational, physical, objective content of information as ultimate truth, and dismissing the subjective, ethical and spiritual content as superstition, delusion or ignorance.
Thinking about a society based on information and one based on physicality requires radically different perspective and consciousness. We to often prefer to ignore the fundamental differences and carry over into the Age of Mind Crafting idea, values, concepts and assumptions which proved useful in the Age of Machine Crafting---concepts such as ownership, finite supply, obsolescence, loss by conveyance, containment, scarcity, separability, quantifiable measurement, and command-and-control management.
Products, services and organizations in which the value of the mental content begins to dwarf the value of the physical content require wise people of deep understanding. To endlessly add to the quantity of mechanistic information, knowledge and technology without similar evolution of values and wisdom is not only foolish, it is dangerous. To massively develop means and act in accordance with what those means permit, without careful consideration of ends in the context of values is a grossly foolish misuse of information.
The emergence of this new age based on information, whatever we choose to label it, calls into question virtually every concept of societal organization, management and conduct on which we have come to rely. Clinging too rigorously to old concepts, dismissing new concepts too lightly, protecting old forms which resulted from those concepts too fiercely, imposing those forms on a changing society too resolutely, are a certain path to failure. As Sir Francis Bacon put it precisely centuries ago in admonishing those who clung tenaciously to the guilds and practices of the Age of Hand Crafting and opposed the scientific revolution and the Age of Machine crafting:
"They that reverence too much the old times are but a scorn to the new."
The new concepts he so ably defended with that assertion are excruciatingly old today. They have become the concepts we now revere too much as we rush headlong into the Age of Mind Crafting