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Chapter 47 ~ “Information and Reality at the Turn of the Century” by Albert Borgmann September 21, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR, Technology.
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Chapter 47 ~ “Information and Reality at the Turn of the Century” by Albert Borgmann (1995)

We’re inundated with information – we get this from Borgmann’s first paragraphs before he asks, “Where does all this information come from and what is it doing to reality?” (571).

He first presents to us how information first arose, through the interplay of three factors: a messenger, a recipient, and a message (each of which also has a list of alternative words). This triad represented “information about reality.” But information is rather hard to grasp because throughout history, it has morphed from something quite simple to something rather complex and technical.

After quickly tracing through signs throughout history, Borgmann that in addition to these signs providing information about the past, they also bring the signs closer to those receiving them. However, it takes comprehension to take the message of a sign and apply to the here and now. Information can also illuminate “what is remote in conception and imagination” (572) and doing so changes the information. It’s no longer “information about reality”; it is now “information for reality.”

Information about reality takes comprehension, but once understood, it makes the world simple, clear. It takes what is far removed from us and makes it understandable; however, those things we come to understand are not connected to us in any meaningful way.

Information for reality, on the other hand, “calls for realization and makes for a more prosperous” and rich world (572).  Skills are needed to “realize,” and once those skills are mastered, the world becomes richer, more intricate.

In order to have this rich, intricate culture of “information for reality,” one needs discipline to acquire the skills necessary to “realize” and competence in the skills. A world build on information for reality, according to Borgmann, “engenders a vigorous sense of continuity, community and intimacy” (573), and in order for us to live in this world, we have to be intimate with every nuance of the world.

Having set up the distinctions between information about and information for reality, Borgmann brings up a third component: “information as reality,” something which has come along through technological advancements.

Borgmann uses Shannon and Weaver to help develop this idea. The threat to how we saw information and our world was threatened when Weaver erased the distance between nearness and farness. [Today’s social media helps me to see this; what CAN’T we do today, no matter the distance?] For Weaver, distance didn’t matter, for we received access to people through information. And not just people – the world, whether through touch, sight, sound…even, I would imagine taste and smell.

And this disintegration threatens not only the notion of nearness and farness, but also the notion of “discipline and competence the world of traditional information used to require” (574).

From here, Borgmann discusses the idea that everything thus becomes information, becomes data, and we tend to lose the ability to understand the information, the message that’s within the information. He makes interesting comments about the internet toward the end of his essay, culminating with the statement, “The Internet, for the most part, is a dump of wasted time” (576). And as much as I love the internet, a part of me agrees. It does provide information that we might have never thought of about thinking we needed – this could be a good or bad thing. Good in that we can take that information and learn and grow from it. Bad in that we come information receptacle bins, in which we dump information, but nothing worthy comes out of us.