Re: Resolved: Technical communicators can create information

Subject: Re: Resolved: Technical communicators can create information
From: Chris Despopoulos <despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Mon, 14 Jun 2010 05:34:34 -0700 (PDT)

Somebody paraphrased the following:

Data becomes Information when it is organized into a form (document, story, presentation, table, etc.)
Information becomes Knowledge when it is internalized.
Knowledge becomes Wisdom when it is used as a guide to right action.

The first statement is close to what I understand from very brief and shallow forays into information theory. Data is converted into information when it is collapsed into a code of some sort, and transmitted to a receiver that can then expand the code to arrive at the same or equivalent data. The most elegant example I can think of would be Kepler... (Did I get it from the books I read???)

Tycho Brahe and Kepler amassed a remarkable body of data, which tracked the movement of planets in the sky. In a way, they could have predicted the position of a planet based on enough data followed by some serious number crunching. But all that they had was data. Kepler then studied that data and arrived at his laws of motion:
* An orbit is always an ellipse
* The area of sweep for any given amount of time is always the
same (the closer to the center of orbit, the faster it goes)
* Length of mean diameter is proportional to length of orbital
(the farther away, the longer the orbital period)

With those three "codes", Kepler (and you) can take incomplete data, and arrive at a full data set -- distance, speed, mass, etc. So a sender (you or some other signal generator) and a receiver (you or some other process that decodes the signal) can both be attuned to the same codes (the three laws). Then a transmission of a minimal data set becomes information -- it can be expanded into the full data set at will.

We do the same thing every day -- we call it language. We say to our kids, "Look out, the fire will burn you" -- That codifies experience, possibly an experience we have never had. To provide our kids with the data, we'd have to stick their hands in the fire. Much better to provide them with the information. Of course, it's up to them to decode it and modify their behavior accordingly. There's only so information kids will accept about the metaphorical fire. But that leads to biology and human instincts... Something for another day.

I say, this is why video hasn't replace technical (or other) writing. Sometimes video is appropriate. But often it weighs too heavily on the side of data, where the time and bandwidth it takes to recreate/relive the experience isn't worth the value of the transmission, compared to codification such as written language. Likewise with graphics, although graphics weigh less than video, and there are more instances where the weight of text + decoding effort is greater than the weight of an image.



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