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Information Wants To Be Everywhere

December 7th, 2010

I followed an interesting link from Daring Fireball, relating to recent debate about WikiLeaks. Nelson Minar reaffirms the often-stated aphorism, apparently attributed to Stewart Brand, that “information wants to to be free.”

I think this is a useful way of thinking about it, but it’s insufficient for describing the way that information actually travels. Even taking to heart Minar’s reminder that information can’t strictly “want” to do anything, the suggestion that it even tends toward or prefers freedom is not accurate.

Information is like water: it wants to be everywhere. Unlike say, a person, who will almost universally want to be free. Information in a cage will not rattle the bars, or scramble frantically to reach a just-too-distant key. On the contrary, information is happy to occupy every corner of the cage, and yes, given an opening, to seep out of the cage as well.

This is truer than ever in the digital age. As individuals we have more capacity than ever to stash away information for our own private use. And we relish it. Consider your private computer archives with their thousands of photographs, unfinished stories, poems that nobody will ever read, and bookmarks that nobody will ever visit. Information is as content to live on the front page of the New York Times as it is to occupy several square millimeters of hard disk surface in a Backblaze server farm.

For every person who wants to shout information from the rooftops, there are probably twenty who want to keep a nice private stash of it for their own enjoyment. The presumed motivation for information to be either public, private, or undiscovered is imbued by the people who care most deeply for it. Perhaps in this light the truly earth-shattering, profound information does want to be free. But by default, information wants to be everywhere.

3 Responses to “Information Wants To Be Everywhere”

  1. Michael Says:

    This is a great post, and it’s really fascinating that you described it as you did, because the other day I said to a friend that I didn’t believe information wanted to be free, either.

    Instead, I said that information reminds me of mercury. If you’ve ever seen it in its natural state, mercury is quite easily penned up in any container, but as soon as it’s released, it disperses into ever-smaller bits that seem impossible to stop as they scatter from the center.

  2. Rob Boeyink Says:

    I like your post!

    We have a other name for it: Liquid Internet

    Beceause we believe that the internet will soon be present wherever we go and will become an integral part of all our lives. As a result, we believe that privacy is becoming increasingly important.

    But we also believe that the abundance of information does not reach its target automatically, and that 1-to-1 communication is required to reach individuals and persuade them to take action.

    We believe that everyone should receive their own personal information, tailored to their interests and needs.

    That’s why we believe in Liquid Internet. The new method of online 1-to-1 communication: personal, relevant and available on demand.

  3. xxxx head [expletive deleted by blog editor] Says:

    Does information want to be free? Does information even know if its in a box?

    Information does not want to be free, it doesn’t know if its free or not, it follows the path of least resistance.

    Information is like a leaking roof. You very much know you have a leaking roof only after the water has left a stain on your newly painted wall, it takes some time to trace that leak back to a hole in your roof. Once you have a hole in your roof the water will follow a path of least resistance to expose itself as a damp patch.

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