Sunday, September 24, 2006

Information Please

I'm thinking tonight about the concept and overall value of information.

Yes, of course I'll explain.

Somewhere around the early 1990s, my husband John briefly attended graduate school at the University of Arizona, working on his MLS. One of the courses as I recall included a convoluted definition of the word "information." I don't remember what it was, only that it didn't make much sense to either of us, or bear much relationship to the word as it's used outside of academia. But ever since then I've been aware of what the concept means to me. I think of it as basically any kind of input the brain can process at a conscious level - sights, sounds, words, ideas, smells, anything. Some of it is "bad" information, in the sense of being inaccurate, biased, or encouraging evil behavior. Some of it is trivial, some of it is unwanted, some of it is important and desperately needed.

None of it should be banned. Sure, bad information should be corrected if possible, countered by the corresponding good information. That's why when you send me some forwarded email that makes some kind of factual claim, I will almost always check the claim on, and email you back the result. But access to information is too important to be filtered by some guardian at the gate that keeps people (adults, at least) from receiving and judging for themselves what is good information and what is not.

Association of Inclusionist Wikipedians
This user is a member of the Association of Inclusionist Wikipedians.
I was thinking about this again tonight in connection with (you guessed it) Wikipedia. I happened to come across a "userbox" that advocated something called "inclusionism." In Wikipedia culture, inclusionism is the belief that the content of Wikipedia should not be constrained by outmoded notions about what is "encyclopedic," thus omitting internet phenomena, current events, items of primarily local interest, pop culture references, information of interest only to fans, etc. Inclusionists want to keep all that stuff, on the grounds that it's useful and interesting to someone, somewhere.

Inclusionists are at odds with exclusionists, naturally enough. Exclusionists will nominate for deletion any Wikipedia article they deem to be "fancruft," "listcruft," "non-notable," or unencyclopedic. Is there no article in a major magazine about Disney Channel's policy of ending nearly every show after about 65 episodes? Then delete the article about the policy! Does Wikipedia have an article about an Iowa high school? Kill it! It can't possibly be important, especially if the deletionist doesn't live in Iowa. An all-time list of shows aired on CBS? Who needs it?

You can guess what side I'm on in this debate. If the information is accurate and not ridiculously obscure and self-promoting (say, an article about a game you and your best friend made up in school last week), and someone took the trouble to write it, then it should probably exist. The fact that I don't much care about Boba Fett, the tv series Life With Derek, or a political party leader in New Zealand has no impact on the value of having well-written, factual articles available about all of the above. Who am I to say that nobody will care about Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway in Kissimmee, and that an article about that road is a waste of bandwidth? Heck, my own brain is a repository of far more obscure information than that!

Mind junk.I've mentioned before that over the years I've developed a philosophy about what I personally am here to do in my time on this Earth. It all boils down to this: I'm here to collect, synthesize and disseminate information. Most of that information isn't vital to the survival of the species: I'm not curing cancer or finding a way to end all war forever. But that's okay. If I can share information about Madeleine L'Engle, Quantum Leap, Tucson, St. Michael's, sunset photography, my thoughts about Us and Them, even what Darsuma says to the spirit of Fayubi in Chapter Four of Mages, that's at least mildly life-enhancing, for anyone who cares to receive and process it. If I can determine how much a particular item costs at branch XXXX of Unnamed Largish Company, I'm helping the company and earning my salary. This is what my brain does. This is what I care about, aside from particular people and general principles of kindness and reason and so on.

Yeah. I'm all about the information. Give me information. Let me give you some. Spread it around.

After all, isn't that what the Internet is for?


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Paul said...

Hi Karen,

This is a great bit. Well thought out and well written. Thanks for it.

MariesImages said...

Thanks Karen, I've use Snopes before to check on a forward that I had received. This is a good sight to pass on to everyone~
Would eliminate a lot on unnecessary e-mails!