⇠ Essays

Why Information Matters

I’ve been asked the question, why do you care so much about information? I’ll answer that here.

First off, what constitutes information? Everything. Everything from the last email you received, the nutrition label on your box of cereal, your neighbor’s body language, a SQL query, a song, to copies of the Gettysburg Address constitutes information. Anything that can be written to your brain is information.

Information is both ubiquitous and omnipotent. Running in a parallel thread to achieving Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the central function in day to day life is sifting through information and acting on it. What else is the human brain but an information processor? Information matters because it drives all human action. Said another way, all human action is downstream information.

Every decision we make is directly or indirectly influenced by information. In business we may pull the trigger on building a new feature because the customer data we’ve collected is high fidelity and overwhelmingly in favor of doing so. In global affairs, a country will decide to invade another based on the information at hand about that country. Every vote is nothing but the result of information consumed about what’s on the ballot juxtaposed against one’s priors — which formed via information.

In our personal lives, we may choose to date or not date someone because of a subconscious feeling driven by information received in the past. The subconscious can be formed by seeming triviality like a movie, or serious information like our parents’ relationship. In practice this information may drive one to not trust people who do x, and trust those who do y.

Communication is the process of transferring information. “I was informed that…” means the same thing as “It was communicated to me that…”. Understanding the way in which information is distributed and received, is equally as important because that process affects the information itself. A sentence written in ink may elicit a different reaction than the same sentence in the same context, though delivered via the spoken word.

Your knowledge is the sum total of the information you’ve consumed multiplied by retention. Someone who’s only read 10 books on the color red will view the world much differently than someone who’s read 20 books on red, yellow, blue, and green respectively. Importantly, their decisions will reflect the information they’ve consumed and differ as a result of this.

Someone who has only read books on numbers, none on colors, will differ even more. Their perception of reality is shaped by information. Two people may look at the exact same thing, something as simple as a building, and have two markedly different views of that building. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it “one man’s beauty is another’s ugliness”. In other words, information shapes reality.

Everything you know how to do — drive a car, make breakfast, write an essay, perform surgery, allocate resources, etc. is downstream of the information you’ve consumed. And the decision making process to do those things is downstream of that same information, nothing else.

Young Americans will join the military or a specific industry because they watched a war or business movie and wanted to be the main character in real life. People start businesses in a certain area because they’ve been exposed to information about that space. Engineers can build a solution because they were previously the recipient of information that either held the answer or taught them to find it.

DNA certainly shapes how one is “wired”, but place the same child born into a family that reads Shakespeare at dinner and their life will be a lot different than if they were raised by a family that actively discourages reading anything at all. Information written to that child’s brain makes all the difference in the trajectory of their life.

All human action is downstream information. Information drives decision making. Information shapes our perception and therefore our reality. Information matters because life itself is downstream information. Information is the gunpowder of the mind.

Our ability to create, share, and consume information drives the viability of the human race. Why work on anything else?

First published on July 14, 2022