Weight of Information I

During party chat, I was accused of being a notorious elitist. Librarian-types place enormous value on free access to information, certainly without censorship imposed directly by government or other controlling entities, and equally free of indirect censorship through interference by value judgments of information professionals who *should* be irrevokably committed to supporting access. The information professions fail before they start if they let themselves judge whether or not patrons should have access to one or another piece of information.

They’re less hesitant to impose judgments on one another where they perceive elitist thinking that might privilege one piece of information in relation to others. I had said I didn’t want to work in an e-commerce environment, in part because I’d rather support systems for providing more “important” information than types of shoes or other products people may find to absorb their disposable income. Similarly, I’m not interested in spending my day developing taxonomies for celebrity news to support a tabloid publication website. I certainly don’t mind that the tabs post their coverage for those who want to read it, but I’m not interested in attending the meetings to define preferred terms and variants for Brad and Angelina, compelling as news about them may seem to some. And the right shoes can feel really important to people. It’s certainly a worthy project to develop the tags to describe them effectively and the interface to discover the right combination of choices. But that’s not what I want to be busy doing.

The basic concept I seem to be working with might be called the weight of information. I prefer to work with issues with comparatively powerful effects on people’s lives, measured by lasting impact as opposed to passing diversion. My desire to get health information to people is stronger, for example, than my interest in satisfying their curiosity about what celebrities might do with their apparently abundant free time. I would never obstruct anyone’s access to information they themselves deem important, and I’d certainly support their own preference if I were in a position whose duties included helping people find what they want. Beyond that, I don’t apologize for my own preference to facilitate access to weighty information. At a minimum, I think I’d work harder and more effectively on projects I myself value than on those that seem uninteresting to me. More than that, I want my time to contribute toward lasting and substantial benefits for people I serve.

To make this general preference work in any rigorous way, I think I need a solid basis for that concept of information’s weight. The closest I’ve come so far is an analogy with the distinction, at least equally problematic, between art and craft. I’m not particularly committed to a position on either side of the question, but I’ve heard arty types sniff at ‘mere craft’ and others criticize that snootiness and question either the content of the distinction or its existence in the first place. If any valid distinction exists, I think it has to involve the creator’s intentions in large doses. If the creator intends an expression deeper than simple aesthetic presentation while making a composition, then the piece is more likely to be art. Elitist as that position may itself be, it sheds light on a possibility of assessing the intention behind creating information as one part of measuring its weight.

I probably need to do a lit review on the subject.