Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:

TitleAsking the right question: What is information? OR What is it that you are calling information?
Author(s)Carvalho, João Álvaro
Issue date2013
PublisherThe Open University
Abstract(s)Information is, nowadays, a pervasive term. It can be heard or read in many different contexts and in the discourse of several different scientific and technical fields. It is sensible to admit that, in these different contexts and fields, the term might be being used to refer to different things. After all, the objects of interest of those different fields is quite disparate. It is also sensible to expect that, within one same field, there is a consensus on defining information. This would be especially likely in fields where information is a central concept. Reality shows that there is divergence in what concerns information within one same field. Even in fields where information is a central concept as in the case of the field of information systems. Looking into definitions of information presented in textbooks, research articles and other documents from the information systems area, it becomes clear that authors aren’t referring to the same thing. The odd thing is that this is seldom a problem. Unless someone poses the question “how do you define information?” and expects to obtain a well-formulated answer, there aren’t normally communication problems. Communication seems not to be affected by the existing lack of consensus on such a central concept. For several years I have been teaching a course on fundamentals of information systems. When time comes to address information, my first concern is to make students realize that they are using the term “information” to refer to different objects. As an attempt to keep students challenged, I set up a classroom exercise that I named the “information suitcase”. This name comes from one of the versions of the exercise where I take to the classroom an actual suitcase with many different objects (another version, easier to carry, involves only images). Students are shown the objects, one at a time, and for each object they are asked whether they consider it as information. Three alternative answers are allowed: yes; no; I have doubts. One first striking result is the difference in the figures that aggregate the answers. From respondents that considerer everything to be information to others to whom only a few objects are information. At another level it is interesting to discuss why some particular objects are considered, or not, as information by different respondents. Besides demonstrating that students aren’t using the term information in the same way, the exercise lays the basis for exploring different uses of the term in the information systems area. These different uses of “information” are typically related to different aspects of cognition and communication processes. The experience acquired in these classroom debates led me to avoid the question “what is information?”, substituting it for “what are you calling information to?”. The preference for the second question is an indication that I was led to admit that no consensus on the use of information in the information systems field will ever be achieved…
TypeOral presentation
DescriptionApresentação efetuada no "The Difference that Makes a Difference 2013, An Interdisciplinary Workshop on Information : Space, Time, and Identity", em Milton Keynes, UK, 2013
AccessOpen access
Appears in Collections:DSI - Engenharia e Gestão de Sistemas de Informação

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
JAC presentation.pdf4,87 MBAdobe PDFView/Open

Partilhe no FacebookPartilhe no TwitterPartilhe no DeliciousPartilhe no LinkedInPartilhe no DiggAdicionar ao Google BookmarksPartilhe no MySpacePartilhe no Orkut
Exporte no formato BibTex mendeley Exporte no formato Endnote Adicione ao seu ORCID