Noalisation

If one accepts the conventional wisdom that information is power—and there is no reason not to accept it—then our Information Age is really the Age of Power. Even in view of the slipperiness of such terms (both ‘information’ and ‘power’ are hard to define), it is abundantly clear that new information tools have multiplied human capabilities many times over. Information spurs participation in new forums and more active engagement in existing ones. It drives commerce, empowers the disenfranchised, promotes participation, creates opportunities (of both noble and crass varieties), and results in new societal arrangements between information haves and information have-nots.

Governments, businesses, and criminals find power in their information tools. So do ordinary individuals. The ability of technology to facilitate continuous access to our email messages, for example, has multiplied our capacity to stay in touch, whether for work purposes or for the purpose of personal communication. We can write memos, supervise employees, schedule meetings, chat with friends, play games, and watch movies in places and situations where these things weren’t possible in the recent past—riding a train, sitting on a toilet, jogging in a gym. The ease of access to information over the Internet can be broadly empowering, whether for a patient getting ready to discuss his or her symptoms with a doctor or for a potential customer getting ready to negotiate the price of a new car.

It may seem superfluous to make a case that information is central to anything. After all, it is obvious that information is at the heart of everything that we do as human beings. Each day begins with information. You open your eyes, gauge whether it is dark or light, glance at a clock, and use information in your memory to line up the day’s events. As you shower, your knowledge of the world enables you to identify the soap, distinguish the hot and cold faucets, and complete the complex process of getting yourself clean. By the time you sit down to breakfast, you probably have accessed information from dozens of external sources and countless internal memories, all without any particular awareness of the role information is playing in making your morning’s activities possible.

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The Information Age in which we find ourselves is about much more than information technology. “Information” has emerged as a central tenet in a broad array of disciplines and activities. Biology now is largely an information science, economics has incorporated information as a core concept, and physicists are coming to see information as a fundamental (perhaps the fundamental) unit of matter and energy. Information policy has always been central to democracy, even when not labeled as such.