Over-Engineering the Information Age

Considering this revelatory pearl in the oyster below:

“The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point. Frequently the messages have meaning; that is, they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem. The significant aspect is that the actual message is one selected from a set of possible messages.”

– Claude Shannon, 1948.

I wonder if at another level the blind mad dash to engineering ever-accelerated information processing and communications efficiency has been, now some 70 years later, that semantics in the sense of actual embodied, lived meaning has been, indeed, cast aside in some fundamental manner. The information and communications revolution has swept us all up in its flow but in retrospect and in its wake we might just find that, unintended, meaning and the lived existential facts of human being have been sacrificed at the altars of commercial pursuit and various pathologies of organisational efficiency. (Ironically, such pathologies are rarely actually as effective as they may superficially claim to be).

The costs are rarely acknowledged formally or consciously but the entropy and disorder which underlies all of this technological complexity is measurable in exploitation and human misery; the displacement of entropy to the periphery does not omit the inevitability of its indirect percolation back up through the hierarchies of corporations and nation states, already reverberating as they are with substantially uncontrollable disorder and uncertainty – entropy that may be implicit in ordered complexity in some deep way but which having been disregarded or diverted must manifest eventually somewhere. Shining a light on achievements and utilitarian gains is also important but not at the cost of failing to acknowledge the creeping gloom of dissatisfaction and inequality that is also and most certainly upon us.

Caveat: this is absolutely no dig at information theory; that would be plainly absurd. It is a reflection on just what is valued, perhaps within that larger aggregate of consequences extrapolated from the “information revolution”, and that within this technological civilisation (such as it is) that the developmental focus and attribution of value is biased primarily towards quantity over quality and method over meaning.

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