Joho the Blog » The origins of information

The origins of information

“You can ring me here tonight from Finland. If you’ve got the film, just say the deal’s come off.”

“And if not?”

“Say the deal’s off.”

“It sounds rather alike,” Avery objected. “If the line’s bad, I mean. ‘Off’ and ‘Come off’.”

Then say they’re not interested. Say something negative. You know what I mean.”

— John le Caré The Looking Glass War (Pan Books, London, 1965), p. 34.

As Paul Edwards explains in his wonderful The Closed World, information theory grew in part out of work done during WWII to develop a vocabulary of words sufficiently distinctive that they could be differentiated over the uproar of battle. The demand for discernible difference (= information) has led us to to see language as code, to denature qualities, and to count that which gets in the way of clarity as noise.

I’m not kicking. I’m just reminding us that information had an origin and a purpose.

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