Alien Anthropology

Covid Information in Australia: Signal from Noise

Despite being quite well suited by geography and economy to weather the pandemic, it seems the inevitable has happened and – part epidemiological entropy, part selfish human stupidity, part bad luck – COVID-19 has gained a foothold again here in Australia.

Every morning and several times a day I check the news media online to seek useful information and guidance. I imagine that this is as much Zeitgeist as it is specific to the current crisis but it is so difficult to find simple, direct, useful and informative facts amidst all the rampant, unrelenting cacophony of institutional statistics, opinions, pundits and politically self-interested commentators.

Isolating signal from noise is itself an exhausting task but it highlights an important problem for all of us. We now live in a world for which the successful production of information is measured by the extent to which it produces more information and so on, ad infinitum. It is all retch without vomit, noise without discernible signal and information without substantive or useful meaning.

The extent to which we have all become components in a vast and sprawling mechanism for the production of information almost totally eludes us. We are as though slaves that treat our confinement as though it were a treasured, precious gift. Ironically, COVID-19 is itself (and also) a viral information system optimally and adaptively calibrated towards its own blindly unknowing reproduction, both through and as us. What a mess.

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