Archiv der Kategorie: Meaning design

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There is no meaning per se

Meaning is always arising through the conscious processing of words that someone disseminates. The scope used to be limited to people in the immediate vicinity. As a result, content was always surrounded by comprehensible cultural, linguistic and social context that made understanding easier. For centuries, the mass media have provided words from expert publicist to an ever-growing audience – via press, radio and TV. This led to a unified language and a press code that is committed to truth, reliability, and human dignity. At the same time, the art of interpreting content in a twisted way evolved, in order to manipulate the audience’s formation of opinion.
Through the Internet it is now again possible to exchange thoughts directly from one to the other without expert brokers – however, limited to the words used, which are internalized without additional context information as well as without hints on purposeful influence. As recipients of vast amounts of news, we assume that these messages mean exactly what we understand.

It is based on the fallacy of thinking that sentences and words mean something unambiguous. Perhaps we should be aware of the features of statements. This article deals only with written and spoken language – not pictorial representations. For the sake of simplicity, we speak of speakers and listeners, which also include writers and readers.

  • A collection of words
    Language delivers a series of words, which, more or less, follow grammatical rules. The speaker chooses the expressions from its vocabulary, with a little luck oriented towards its target group – the appropriate national language and an appropriate jargon. The audience receives the words and understands the meaning through their own language skills. The general assumption is that this leads to a far-reaching overlapping of meanings, which is very unlikely.
  • A variety of intentions
    Each statement always contains several intentions: 1) Say what is; 2) Urge to (or not to) do something; 3) Disclose, to (or not to) do something; 4) Share, how you are feeling; 5) Announce, what applies. All this is in one sentence and is noticed according to the interest of the listeners. The following statement is drawn arbitrarily from the stream of news: A denies that B has two things: Experience and charisma. What does this include: 1) B lacks experience and charisma. 2) B is not acceptable. 3) A does not accept B. 4) A does not feel well with B. 5) B will not get it. Scan any sentence for the included messages.
  • Infelicity of the expression
    A statement can be made with different words. And sometimes you get carried away with an awkward wording. Example is the statement „Reconcile the social with the national“. Despite the changed word order you become aware of the double sense. With the amount of other words one could have used, the question arises, to what extent this happened intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Who knows, what it actually meant
    The message behind the words is not always clear, even with a conscious word choice. A statement can be meant as it is said. However, something can also be expressed without meaning it. Quickly, something is expressed that is meant differently. It is particularly frustrating, when you say something and nobody understands what was in your mind. For these reasons, an open, reciprocal discourse, with questions and answers, is always preferable to a one-sided proclamation.

Bottom line: There is reason to fear that there is no longer a common basis for expressing universally accepted facts. The real meaning lies in the eye of the beholder and its own opportunistic interpretation. Although the speaker thinks that it can control this, it is the listener, who processes the content and intention of an utterance. Today, all those, who have access to the Internet, can easily publish. This exacerbates the situation that opinions come into the world that deserves to be called alternative facts. The background is unknown and the contents are adopted uncritically. The fact checkers don’t help here. Direct exchange on the Internet is a new form of conversation, in which opinions are exchanged. In the interest of the freedom of expression, this must be allowed, even if the content is available worldwide without delay and reaches directly immediately vast numbers of people. We must learn to distinguish between personal statements and expert publications, as in everyday street conversations – even, if the differences are difficult to perceive. It is worth taking a look at the imprint of the publicists. There, a part of the context becomes visible or obscured and one recognizes who you are dealing with or not. If the imprint, the names of the authors, the address and the telephone number are missing, or if the contact address is a Freemail, or if the responsibilities are located abroad, the contents are questionable. In any case, there is simply no meaning per se.

The natural limits

How unimaginable seems to be a city that is gigantic and divided into a lower and an upper town. The border separates the two like the Berlin Wall the East- from the West-part of the city. There is no exchange of any kind. Since centuries the Upper dwellers and the Lower dwellers have forgotten the existence of each other. Above the sun never sets – below it never rises. As a result, people have adapted to their environment and speak in the meantime their own language, which sounds the same but transports different meaning. One day an explosion ruptures a huge crater, which connects the city from above with the one below. Both of them shut the crater off and recognize that they have direct neighbors, who even seem to speak their language. The boundary evaporates.

The first meetings are pleasant, since the languages are very similar and use even the same words. But then it becomes apparent that the two areas have developed in very different directions. The following examples show the differences.

  • Visual perception
    The city above has equipped over the centuries all areas that are not approached by sunlight with artificial light around the clock. That way they eventually forgot the darkness. It is similar to the city below. Over time the light has disappeared from the under town. After all, they forgot the light.
    At the crater the Upper and the Lower dwellers get together. And they both say, „I can’t see.“ An astonishing consensus, since both come from completely different surroundings. It takes a while for somebody to understand that they both mean something different. The Upper dwellers can’t see because they do not penetrate the darkness. And the Lower dwellers see nothing because they are blinded by the light.
  • Auditory perception
    The hearing habits have also developed differently in the two neighborhoods. The dark corridors of the city below swallow up any sound waves after only a few yards. As a result, the hearing of the Lower dwellers has been readjusted to the low frequencies, whose long waves can still be heard far away. On the surface, the Upper dwellers enjoy the timbres created by the high frequencies.
    After the crater formation, they meet in the crater and don’t believe what they hear. And they both say, „I hear something unusual.“ The low tones irritate the Upper dwellers and the high sounds feel strange to the Lower dwellers.
  • Kinesthetic perception
    Above and below ground, heat receptors have adapted to the respective habitats. The permanent sunshine and the artificial light tan the Upper dwellers and provide an even climate. In contrast, the Lower dwellers are quite pale and used to the wet freshness of the underground.
    However, in the crater they are exposed to a new environment to which their thermal sensation reacts strongly and both say „I feel uncomfortable“. The unfamiliar coolness causes stress to the Upper dwellers and the unfamiliar heat to the Lower dwellers.
  • Olfactory perception
    Both districts have got used to their atmosphere over a long period of time. In the city above there is always a high level of humidity, which transports smelling particularly well. In the absence of light, they have become accustomed to following their nose, which is able to distinguish their environment and recognize the fellow human beings by their scent. In the upper town the air is dry and transports few smells. Since they can rely on their eyes, they don’t pay much attention to scents.
    In the crater, the two atmospheres meet and Upper and Lower dwellers say „It smells strange.“
  • Gustatory perception
    Both districts have adapted their food to their environment. The Upper dwellers love spicy food that is eaten raw. The Lower dwellers prefer boiled food, which less irritates the taste buds, but bland with a moist, wide vapidness.
    During the meetings in the crater, the delicacies of the kitchens are exchanged. And both say, „That’s inedible.“

Long story short. Radical constructivism postulates that there is no objective reality, but that everyone constructs his or her own personal image of the reality from his or her sensory stimuli and experiences. In the example above, we have performed a simple mental game that shows how our environment determines our way of expressing ourselves. Obviously, the Upper and Lower dwellers have lived far apart. They adapted ideally to their respective environment. Interestingly, however, their language has remained unchanged over the centuries. They may have forgotten some words that do not fit into their reality, but central utterances have survived. But they always mean something completely different. Our senses provide visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory and gustatory stimuli, which we mix with our experiences to eventually express ourselves – in our example with the same words for different meanings.

Bottom line: Since Descartes, we have been trying to explore the world objectively. Today, we know that our perception is not in a position to provide a joined reality. Science has long recognized this. However, we are still trying to objectify everything. The above example is intended to show in the simplest possible way, how different the world can be perceived, depending on one’s own view and experience. We can use these insights in our daily communication by being aware of the following.

First: It is the listener, not the speaker, who supplies meaning to an utterance. (Heinz von Foerster).

Second: You cannot not communicate (Paul Watzlawick).

In everyday life this means that one should again and again be aware of the natural limits and to make an effort to understand the counterpart.

Let Loose Borders

In times of the classic chain of command, many links wanted more openness. The stronger the participants are concatenated, the longer and more inflexible the companies are moving. With the introduction of computers, the interaction was accelerated by virtuality. However, at the same time, each component was refined more and more and the number of connections increased. As structuring progressed, there was a call for more openness – more flexibility, more contact opportunities and more cooperation internally and externally. Today, digital transformation enables companies, groups and individuals to network globally. In turn, this openness scares many people nowadays – there are no clear boundaries, no opportunities for identification and no framework for action. Stiff does not work and open does not work. What can be done? Let Loose Borders.

Let’s take a look at how stiff openness can be imagined. Let’s work along the words „Let Loose Borders“.

  • Borders
    This word defines a system with certain characteristics that makes some feel committed and excludes different ones. The cohesion is determined by common goals, rules, and beliefs.
    What makes the difference in this case is the permeability of the borders – closeness by insurmountable dividing lines; permeable openness in both directions.
  • Loose
    If you bundle a lot of individual parts lightly, you get a charge that is processed in one swing. This could also be a number of incidents that fluffily rain (un)advantageously down on somebody. Or the starting shot without rigid standards.
    What makes the difference in any cases is the action that is executed decisively – doing something and facing the consequences.
  • Let
    The willingness to get involved in something or to allow oneself to get involved has a great influence on the impression of the close- or open-mindedness of a system. Stress arises when cohesion gets tensed and aggressively defends its boundaries. And also, when the cohesion dissolves through unlimited influx of the unfamiliar.
    What makes the difference is the growth – the healthy balance between content-related stiffness and dissolution.
  • Borderless
    The avoidance of borders goes hand in hand with the loss of identity. The feeling of belonging results from common values and rituals. Without the definition of boundaries, individuals cannot find their place or exchange ideas.
    The difference is the form of demarcation – dogmatic borders create violence; unconditional openness leads to unfulfilled self-confidence, and eventually also to violence.
  • Let Borders
    Simply opening boundaries is awkward, as the members of a group are not necessarily happy about the lack of boundaries (see above). Ignoring the delimitation, we are driven by our genes to defend our territory.
    The difference makes tolerance – walls do not have to be immediately torn down, but only need appropriate passages and rules to exchange ideas.
  • Let go
    One should not stick to what limits thoughts and action or insist on the traditional. A new way of thinking is only possible if one at least allows the familiar to pause. This creates openness and the necessary meeting points to improve and expand due to new ideas.
    The difference arises with the continuous expansion of the system – systems that do not open will collapse; systems that use openness for their own development grow sustainably.

Bottom line: Whether you now let go the boundaries or leave them borderless is up to the reader. The mixing of the words has hopefully made clear that it is about the gray zone between boundlessness and the iron curtain. Systems have no chance to survive, if they encapsulate or fractalize themselves borderless. Let Loose Borders – the interpretation is in the eye of the beholder.

P.S.: Whoever recognizes the limit of today’s drawing has understood.

The Why needs perspectives

The answer to Why is not an easy thing, because it leads to different results due to the different perspectives. With the development of a new product, various aspects of a solution must be questioned. Imagine an app for your smartphone that generates new ideas for your business based on the own online activities. The freemium version offers one idea per day. The paid version has additional features and collects between 0.1 $ and 5 $ for each additionally retrieved idea depending on the contract. Why should you invest money in the development of this app? Why do you need certain functions? Why should customers subscribe to the paid version? To assess the viability of the draft, a set of perspectives can be used. This provides more comprehensive insights into the Why.

In the following, several perspectives are used to understand „Why“ the described app makes sense. In addition, there are still „infinite“ more other aspects that may be relevant. Let’s look at the draft out of some basic perspectives.

  • Customer Perspective
    Customers love Freemium, because they do not have to commit to anything and can use for free more or less of the benefits of the offer. One idea per day adds up to 365 free ideas that allow a real assessment of the benefits. The consideration of the personal attitudes delivers results, which are worth knowing for everybody. Of course, the professional wants to be able to get more needs-oriented ideas. Flexible payment models serve these various needs. If one of the ideas comes to fruition, then the subscription is financed for a long time.
  • Contentual perspective
    The challenges are the topics and the approach to avoid the repetition of ideas. In the freemium version, the Internet activities are evaluated and condensed to one new idea per day. In the professional environment, more settings are needed to align the target area to a current task. Other features are available, such as tracing previous ideas. Evaluations have shown that ideas can be generated without limits.
  • Social perspective
    An important task will be the dispelling of the concerns of individual users, who feel being observed through assessing their Internet activity. They overlook the fact that these traces persist in the net in any case and that they get for the first time the opportunity to use these traces for themselves. The spared time, the advancement of the business and the increased reputation, which is generated by the ideas, should quickly let them be open for conviction.
  • Technological perspective
    This cloud-based service operates based on big data that is already used by major online retailers. You get additional purchase proposals, when you buy a CD appears „Other buyers, who bought this CD …“ The main difference of the app is the controllable semantic evaluation, which generates more and more ideas, and does not serve as a sales hook to buy something. The features can be set in a unique way with the special, multilingual meaning engine. The corresponding patent has already been granted.
  • Economical perspective
    It is common to attract large user groups via freemium offers. The business case assumes that 10% of the free accounts book the paid packages subsequently. This results in revenues that bring the project into the profit zone within three years. Analysts concluded that the effect of conditioning will be driven by the usable ideas that will motivate users to stay an active member for a long time. A small, solvent group will be interested in elaborate additional offers. The critical tipping point is reached after two years. Thereafter, the main task will be to ensure availability and to continuously expand the offer.
  • Political perspective
    So far, the introductory provisions allow a cross-border exchange of ideas. Should there be a tightening of customs regulations, then the supply can be easily nationalized, i.e. the programs are set up nationally and need therefore no longer operating across borders. There are no disturbing distortions to competition since it stimulates the business of key competitors, like consultants and creative firms. The results of the app consist of short ideas, which create comprehensive consulting services for the implementation. The use in crisis regions and authoritarian states could be difficult because the network access is not guaranteed.
  • Legal perspective
    The data that is used consists of the data tracks that the user creates in the net. In principle this data belongs to the users. The ideas that are generated by the app are public domain and can be used free of charge by the users. It is planned to include a legal verification in a premium version. The product liability of the offers resulting from the ideas remains with the manufacturer. From a legal point of view nothing speaks against the app.
  • Ecological perspective
    The impact on the environment is mainly determined by the operation of the data centers – air conditioning, electricity, the fuel of the emergency power generators. The actual ideas are not polluting per se. Ecologically questionable ideas are filtered out to the extent that environmental damage is minimized on a non-dogmatic level, e.g. waste of natural resources and non-recyclable waste is avoided by default. The app has a positive effect on CO2 footprint of the idea scouts, who limit their research to the net.
  • Own perspective
    The developers have reported that they are proud having found these resourceful algorithms, since more and more ideas are needed in the future to make small businesses viable. For them, the program is a contribution to the world of work of tomorrow and after-tomorrow. They already have plans for much more extensive analysis capabilities. The positive attitude of the involved people promises long-lasting momentum for the development of new features.

Bottom line: Of course, the story is fake news. But, the example clarifies that looking at a new product out of only one perspective, e.g. the business case, is inadequate. Additionally each of the indicated perspectives has its purpose. For this reason, it is always beneficial to change your standpoint, to put on a new hat, to walk in the moccasins of others in order to get to an overall assessment. Only then, one perceives the actual potentials and is able to recognize the challenges at an early stage. In order to get better, the Why needs perspectives.

The wind – the ideal metaphor for influencing factors

In sports, personals efforts determine the performance. The athletes exercise for years to release the trained strengths at the right moment. At competitions, however, the results can be distorted by external influences like the wind. World records are only recognized, if the wind speed is less than 2 m/ sec, since the wind can distort the results. In business influencing factors impact the same way on the efforts from all directions – even if it is sometimes an unexpected wildcard in favor of the own outcomes.

Wind is a directed air movement blowing from different directions. The following sections describe some properties of the wind.

  • Wind direction
    The Wind evolves as a result of varying air pressures and blows in different directions (North, South, West, East and all possible intermediate stages). Side winds push you out of the chosen direction. Thermal winds produce additionally vertical winds (upwind and downwash). In an extreme case, the wind direction changes more and more rapidly until turbulences are created, which are dangerous due to their unpredictability and power. The winds can not be produced, but people learned to use them – sailing, propelling mills or flying.
    In business flows arise that affect the activities. These are the employee behaviors, new technologies or unforeseen market changes. They also take effect from all directions. They often come from the side and create an imperceptible drift that ultimately go past the target. If you are able to deal with these trends, you can make use of them for your own benefit by letting yourself being propelled. If, for example, competitors are increasingly using certain software, this reinforces acceptance in the company. However, if the circumstances are working against your direction, they will burden the activities in the form of resistances. If, for example, the use of external workers is increasingly criticized in public, it could quickly lead to a corresponding rejection internally. If new tendencies arise from different directions, special measures must be taken to secure the day-to-day business, like concerted exchange with the concerned people.
  • Wind speed
    Total still air always required looking for other energy sources – on ships rudders or engines are used; mills can also work with hydro power. The force of the wind ranges from a light breeze to a strong wind, or to storms and hurricanes. Over time solutions were invented for using the wind energy. Nowadays container ships are developed that are again propelled by wind energy. The first ships are expanding their propulsion with large sails (see here) and that way they already save about 20% fuel.
    In business, changes influence daily work. At times machines are changed, some other time the business processes are redesigned or the IT is updated. The more extensive the innovations are, the more the influencing factors push. If then even more innovations take place at a time, the dangerous turbulences increase, which can eventually become dangerous. In order not to be overwhelmed by the influences, it is necessary to look at the indicators of change and to use them for the own business. If they push you in the desired direction, you can let yourself carry away. Comes the pressure from the wrong direction and threaten the ongoing operations, you can no longer avoid taking unpleasant measures. These can be strategy changes or at least adaptations in the planning of the implementation, but also measures for exchanging ideas, such as detailed publications of the current situation or staff meetings, in which problems are openly addressed and comprehensibly solved for the employees.
  • Airstream
    A special form of wind, the airstream, is not created by different air pressures, but it comes from your own speed. It is for example created, when you drive fast on the road and the air builds up a wall. This produces similar effects as with the natural wind. The airstream always „blows“ against the own direction. If you move faster than the sound (more than 767 mph), you can even break the sound barrier with a loud bang. The resistance can be reduced by creative adaptation of the form.
    In business, it is possible that too many activities are set up simultaneously. This leads almost automatically to a counter-pressure of the workforce. The unwelcomed changes can be made more „wind-slippery“, especially through open exchange of thoughts. The resistance usually arises from a lack of knowledge of the facts. This resistance is reduced through openness and early involvement of the affected parties. If the management team plans the implementation at a speed that does not allow the workforce to come along, the back pressure increases unnoticed, but steady. Even if many measures go in the desired direction of all concerned people, employees can get too much. In these cases you can only slow down the speed, in order to get faster to the end.

Bottom line: The wind is a natural force which influences the circumstances from all directions. The horizontal and vertical forces and their strength play an important role. Correspondingly, you have to deal with such developing streams also in business. If you can make use of these currents, then you can become faster. If they come from sideways, it is important to take early steps to avoid loosing the path. If it is contrary to your direction, then these resistances slow down, delay or even make the goal fulfillment impossible. Because the business has to deal with similar, difficult to control forces, the wind is an ideal metaphor for influencing factors.

Charging words with meaning

In times of populism, words are charged with meaning. The meaning of a word actually arises in the mind of the readers or listeners, who link a message with their thoughts and thus develop their personal understanding. However, this effect can purposefully be distorted by additional information. Notably specialized language jugglers, who suggest to the listener that they know what is meant, produce their own messages. Through these influences, the audience is incapacitated and manipulated according to the conviction of the presenter.

How do they load words with meaning?

  • Assuming falsified intentions
    The direct way to a new meaning is to allege directly that the original speakers or writers have certain intentions. Based on this you quote examples that create the prepared framework, the deliberate manipulation. Whatever was originally said is gone. Example: With the statement „The author wanted to tell us that …“ the commentator defines a new meaning. You should especially look for these assertions, because they could indicate a distortion of meaning.
  • Shifting the context
    Less obvious is the shift of the context. By attributing statements to a particular group or by placing them in a historical context, new possibilities of interpretation arise. Since words are in a constant state of change, one can find a negatively charged time in history. The content receives thereby a new conceptual basis, which falsifies the original statements. Shift of context creates a new meaning. Example: The statement „We are the people“ in the context of the year 1989 produces in Germany a different meaning than related to 2014. It is helpful to be aware of the context!
  • Reinterpreting with ambiguous synonyms
    Words are often ambiguous – e.g. the step through the break of the wall gave him a break for eating a break. Content can be directed in a particular direction by using appropriate synonyms, which in turn have a wide field of interpretation. This can be done with several words simultaneously or successively. Example: The statement „Through transparency of the expectations you have more advantages“ is distorted by using other words „With a clear view on the needs you expand your profits.“ The word choice should always be questioned.
  • Covertly contradict
    It is tricky not to pronounce an interpretation concretely but to contradict socratically with another interpretation. This implies a new meaning, without making it explicit. For example, “Honesty is the foundation for communication” might be contradicted by saying, „The own attitude should never create a disadvantage in mutual interaction.” It is clever not to get distracted by contradiction from what is really objected to.
  • Judging titles
    The assumed impartiality of news reinforces statements by emphasizing individual aspects. Thus, a title prepares the readers for the objective news content. Unfortunately, the unbiased information gets quickly lost. Example: The following title “Violence against journalists at Pegida demonstration” focusses on the demonstrators, whereas „Dozens of arrests at demonstrations in Moscow“ is used to target the police. A look at the involved parties as well as the preferred or accused side is always beneficial.

Bottom line: At the end of the day it is not possible to know what someone originally meant. This makes all comments on articles of others above all an expression of the interpreter. Nevertheless, the impression is created that there is a certain, correct interpretation. In this case allegations, context shifts, reinterpretations with ambiguous synonyms, hidden contradictions of facts and judging titles occur. That way third parties, commentators and critics, charge every message of other people with meaning that does not necessarily correspond to the original intention. Be aware!

The agility of the elders

Thinking about agility, we have in mind the everyday life of hundred-year old people, who live their life with good conditions. Or the Tai Chi master, who still makes his exercises later in life. Or the entrepreneur, who leads his enterprise far beyond the age of retirement. Or the concierge, who reads any desires from your lips for decades and does not feel too important to fulfil some errands by himself. Often older people are described as agile, when they keep certain fitness. Even enterprises want to become more and more agile. Can they learn anything from the agility of the elders?

Agility in business is above all defined by the agile manifesto.  Attentive readers recognize that the manifesto refers to software development. However, outside of the IT-department other basic conditions are valid – less development, more routine, more complex relationships. And nevertheless many new approaches get the new adjective agile – agile project management, agile organization, agile product development, agile HR development.

Young Start-ups are by nature dynamic. They act without the burden of over time developed structures and formalisms. Decisions are made, where the energy is and facts are created. Established organizations want to go back to the early years, when they engaged for the whole without bureaucracy – of course with their long-standing experience. What can these enterprises learn from the elderly?

  • The remaining abilities
    The craft to react in the existing context swift and clever makes the difference – try new things, question existing things, develop energy from within. The tayloristic task arrangement makes it no longer possible to become active outside of your own scope of responsibility. Enterprises want to have committed entrepreneurship and need to become agile for it.
  • The sprightly constitution
    After the purposefully created areas produce new rules, forms and procedures without interruption, without ever to abolishing outdated ones, the enterprises are at risk to become senile. The existing rules are like chunky knight armor with no elbow room. Debureaucratization fails because of the bureaucracy. One cannot negotiate with the frogs about the drainage of their pond. That way enterprises hinder themselves. They have to find open forms of regulations, e.g. value-based governance.
  • The robust structure
    The robustness can be seen in how resistant and steady the involved people are. Difficulties of the business tasks can be mastered safer, if you are well-trained and wiry. In order to do the right things right, the structures have to follow the results and the customers – and being adjusted again and again.
  • The boundless enthusiasm
    Agile teams are euphorically at work and are always on fire for their topic. Passion is the best fuel for the own stimulus. Boundless joy of activity carries also those away, who do not have much momentum at the time. This positive energy cannot be ordered. For this purpose adequate basic conditions have to be created and must leave the involved people room for decisions – for example temporal self-determination and functional participation.

The way to agility crosses the elements that let somebody normally become senile – rheumatoid structures, stubborn approaches, limited perception, and lost mobility. Disturbing are age-related bad habits – missing error tolerance, expected priority for elders and blunt compliance. In the interest of a lasting fitness of the enterprise the decision makers must dissolve the calcification in their areas, since otherwise it can come to lethal apoplexies, due to organizational thromboses.

Bottom line: As soon as a certain age is reached, also enterprises must worry about their fitness. Agility provides potentials. It is important to receive or even re-activate the survival abilities to detoxify out-of-date regulations, to make the structures resilient and to promote a positive mood among all involved people. That way agility becomes the way out of stagnation. That is, what enterprises can learn from the agility of the elders.

Beyond the informational bubble

If Socrates would have already known the term, one of his famous sayings would have been going like this – “I know that I know nothing outside of my informational bubble.” The fact that we cannot know what we do not know, is an uncomfortable situation. Since Gutenberg the availability of information has grown immeasurably by the mass media. Today we arrived in the Internet, where everybody can reach everybody, as long as they are found. In this complex world it is natural that the web pages are linked with like-minded ones – creationists link to creationists; supporters of the theory of evolution link to supporters of the theory of evolution. What constitutes these spheres? How can you get beyond the informational bubble?

The informational bubble is for example defined by the following aspects.

  • Consistency
    The cohesion in an informational bubble results from a consistent correlation. The individual components repeat and complement each other or even built on each other. In any case they never contradict themselves. For this purpose the necessary logic must be as simple and understandable as possible.
  • Language
    The consistency is guaranteed by a common language. The contributions always repeat a similar pattern. This leads over time to a High Context culture, which is only understandable from the outside and/or is interpreted in the wrong way. Informational bubbles subsist on their technical jargon.
  • Dogmatism
    Informational bubbles have to resist the tendency of influencing their consistency and their jargon. Different world views are as early as possible nipped by all means in the bud and are actively ignored. Repeating the contents through re-use is rewarded. Failure is defamed immediately, mostly as lack of knowledge or as lie or as fake news.
  • Internal linking
    An important function is the use of cross references within the own informational bubble. In the interest of consistency the link to opposite or other opinions is forbidden. Thus, a closed explanation system evolves that lacks openness and a discourse with other topics.
  • Filter
    The Internet insinuates complete accessibility. Therefore the net providers and the social platforms have the possibility to insert and in the meantime even the obligation to filter at any time. These filters prevent the visibility of certain web pages. Particularly countries and enterprises, which believe that they have to exercise control, can fade out undesired contents with simple measures and without being recognized immediately.

There is actually no way out of the bubble, except you have a look beyond your own nose. Additionally it needs:

  • Neutral search engines
    As long as there are overarching search engines, which can look into all informational bubbles, there is a large probability that you can look out of your own informational bubble. The problem is that one does not have any objective way of recognizing filtered contents except you get hints from other media or by word of mouth. You never know, what you don’t know.
  • General rules for filters
    In the best interest of maximum openness, rules for an open Internet should be defined. They should regulate technical blocking, the elimination of search results, the deactivation of web pages and self-censorship. In principle there are cases, in which filters are justified – pedophilia, terrorism, or the like. Unfortunately there is still no generally accepted interpretation, which web pages are to be filtered and which not.
  • Mutual tolerance
    The acceptance and connivance of other opinions is an approach, which is available for everybody, but for understandable reasons is not applied. The discussion of contrary positions would guarantee that the own approach gets more stable. Only with the appropriate tolerance, discourses become possible.

Bottom line: The informational bubble is a natural phenomenon. The common language, the necessity of consistent contents, the inherent convictions, consistent cross references and filters create an integrated approach. With neutral search engines, general rules for filters and common tolerance you can get beyond the informational bubble.

The overall context determines the understanding

The language does not offer an adequate base, in order to interpret a phrase.  Let’s pull one of world literature out of its context “The husband asked, would she allow him to smoke, obviously not with a view to smoking, but to getting into conversation with her.” You can better understand what is happening, if you know that this is a sentence out of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoj. The internal images adapt immediately. If you realize that you are in a train compartment you get even close to the circumstances. The following illustration creates on the left a frame condition and offers on the right goods for smokers. Which one fits best? That depends on the mental framework in your mind, because the overall context determines the understanding.

contextsmoking

If you prepare a lecture, you have to take care of the circumstances. There are three aspects that affect this total context.

  • The presentation
    Since you can only understand the things that you can express with words and pictures, the designing of the presentation is a pre-requisite for the transmission of meaning. Most of the times people limit themselves to the determination by facts that are worth it to convey. Unfortunately, many stop there. The information should always be translated attentively into the appropriate words, metaphors, and visualizations that can be understood by the target audience. The dissemination of the own ideas is the real purpose. Eventually the worm has to taste good to the fish, not to the fisherman.
  • The event
    The interpretation framework that is created by the event, determines the exegesis of the messages. The title of the event, the various subject areas and the participating presenters with their program items give the attention of the audience a certain direction. Presentations that do not fit within the framework will have difficulties to attract sufficient attention. For this reason you should always consider, how you can shape your contributions to the event. At least titles, examples and presentation style should fit into the program. Eventually the messages need the loosened soil in the consciousness of the audience, in order to strike roots.
  • The target group
    The total context is determined by the background and the technical field of the listeners. The cultural background can be derived from the place of the meeting. If the addressees come from the western hemisphere, they are for example coined by values, as good and bad, right and wrong. The eastern heritage is based on the balance of Yin and Yang. Accordingly, the desire for acknowledgment is more pronounced in the west and less in the east. The attitudes of the expected participants can also be derived from the event. It is mainly a matter of distinction, whether it concerns technique, sales or leadership oriented listeners. In any case the presentation should be adapted to the respective cause. Eventually there is no general sequence of the lecture that fits for all imaginable opportunities.

Each spectator and all speakers bring in their total context. The effect of the exchange of information is a result of the overlap that you achieve between the total contexts. How far you create this, can be recognized by the reaction of the public.

Bottom line: The overall context determines the probability that a message reaches the target audiences. Here it is not a matter of your own preferences, but above all the adapted presentation, the general framework of the event and the respective target audience. Since the context always changes from one to the other event, the appropriate conceptions should always be adapted to the respective case, because the total context determines the understanding.

Meme-It – Make ideas adherent

In the 70s of the last century, we had reached the time for the next level of ‘bits of paper everywhere’. Out of the practical need not to lose bookmarks of his hymnal, Art Fry putted an adhesive on it that could be detached again. This was the birth of a pervasive tool of the information society, the Post-It. Wouldn’t it be great, if there would be similar mechanisms, in order to better anchor ideas in the mind of target groups – a Meme-it that makes ideas adherent.

Meme

In the last century people thought about, how to promote the spreading of ideas. In the Twenties scientists such as Harold D. Lasswell worked on how one could affect human acts through the manipulation of spoken or written language, pictures and music. After all branches exploited the possibilities of PR and marketing as well as new channels are established for conveying contents due to the global networking, viral marketing, sometimes also called guerilla marketing, promises a new, economical approach for the spreading of ideas and concepts. The object that is thereby quasi-automatically spreading across the World Wide Web and the minds of people is called Meme or recently Memeome. Memes are contents that people causally create and think – or how it expresses M. Csikszentmihalyi “any permanent pattern of matter or information produced by an act of human intentionality”. In order to anchor ideas in the consciousness of many people, it is helpful to be aware, how this Meme is composed.

Let’s imagine Meme like a virus that nests in a host cell, multiplies continuously and is transferred to other hosts. The infection is enabled by the structure of the Meme.

Meme consists of three layers, which have on each level a certain function – the contents, the actual idea in the core, the aura that integrates the content into the mental model of each individual and the sphere, which establishes the contact with the environment.

  • Content
    The meme content is the actual meaning that is reduced to minimum. Here the actual statement, i.e. an idea, a topic, a draft, a plan or an established practice, are represented in a compact way. If we describe the core of a knife, then it is a tool for cutting, a sharp thing that splits all possible fabrics or materials.
  • Aura
    The Meme aura extends the content with linked ideas, like e.g. relations to contents, irresistible attractions and other commonalities, which make it easier to dock on existing mental models. Thus, the medical setting offers an associative, emotional and positive framework to look at a knife, or in this context, at a scalpel. That way the Unique Selling Proposition (USP), the special sharpness and the function to save life’s, becomes an interesting thing for many people.
  • Sphere
    The Meme sphere is the meaning context, in which the Meme have an effect and makes contact with the environment. The spreading is favored by this shell, since it is the interface to the environment and to other ideas. Most know a scalpel through personal experience or indirectly by hearsay. The fear of sickness and hope for being healed by surgery creates attention. The example of the scalpel can be traced back up to the times of ancient cultures, which already operated with a sharp artefact.

According to the example of a knife there is in information that we would like to disseminate, content as well as the layers of the aura and the sphere. The conscious arrangement of these layers creates messages that are finding their way, since after a successful infection by the Meme hosts they are spread through word of mouth, publications and repeating implementation.

Bottom line: With Meme-it, you design virulent ideas, topics, scheme, plans and practices in a simple manner. That way your messages are provided with an “adhesive” that on the one hand settles in the mind of the target groups and on the other hand is transmitted. The sales-oriented expenditure for bringing the Meme across the Tipping Point, is substantially smaller, than the classical marketing activity. In this sense, make you your ideas adherent! Meme it!

==> Memefication

==> Meaning design

Documented cluelessness

A large issue of the information society is the fact that people

  • are not aware what they do know and
  • cannot grasp, what they do not know.

Already in ancient times Socrates, the wise of its time, putted it that way „I know that I know nothing.” Our information-hungry society is propelled by the dilemma to learn a lot and to be obliged to inform oneself constantly. This urge for knowledge leads to permanent information overload that creates nothing else than documented cluelessness.

DokumentiertesUnwissen

Our brain is not a hard disk that doubles its storage space and the access speed to stored data every 18 months. Quite the contrary. A Chinese study discovered that our brain is shrinking for the past 10,000 years from 1500 cm3 to 1350 cm3. And our everyday life experience shows that we function differently than a digital data memory. We seem never to be full, therefore

  • we subscribe more newspapers, magazines, on-line offers, than we can process. The paper piles up either in the room or in the garbage;
  • we buy books that become thicker and thicker and ever more rarely read, stuck in the shelves for years waiting for their ’consumption’;
  • we send and receive enormous amounts of emails that overflow our mail box. At the same time we wish to be on more and more mailing lists, in order not to miss anything;
  • the Germans consume on average nearly 4 hours television per day – and remember at best the transmission on the next day, but not the contents;
  • one gets lost when surfing in the Internet.

The documented cluelessness is the information that we have virtually and physically on hold to ensure that we do not miss anything. Who does not have a too large heap of documented cluelessness, as unread articles, books, unseen films, throw the first stone?

The deficit that blocks our access to already known and unknown does not result in an economic use of resources. We do not make anything out of what we already know and continue to untwist the information faucet, in order to perceive, what we think not to know. Eventually we do not feel progress.

The way out of this dead end begins with changing our convictions that drive us.

  • Accepting the own capability
    As soon as we understand that our processing capacity is as good or as bad, as for all others, we can better use the existing resources.
  • We know almost nothing about everything
    There is nobody, who has less cluelessness than we do. Accepting this lack of knowledge, not being afraid of posing questions and making curiosity a virtue reduces the pressure.
  • Preventing that news blow out quickly
    Soaking up news passively leads to fast forgetting. Immediate, active application of new knowledge in discussions and/or the written summary of new insights lead to the fact that it can be better recalled.
  • Using the senses for oneself
    Information is at best remembered, if it enters on the one hand via several sensory channels and on the other hand our preferred sense channel is supplied. Who knows, with which sense channel he/she learns best – visually, auditory, kinesthetically?

Bottom line: The fatal is the missing awareness of the existing knowledge and the invisibility of the unknown. This deficiency cannot be overcome with efforts but by coming loose the documented knowledge and by using the existing always more actively. It functions well, if we change our convictions, as mentioned above, so that the need for more and more documented cluelessness dissolves.

The knife – between tool and weapon

The first hand axes that were created by our ancestors two and a half million years ago were the Swiss Army Knife of the Stone Age. The extremely sharp edges for cutting or scraping and the blunt side for hammering extended the human abilities in daily life. Even without appropriate evidence, one can assume that the knife was in those days on the one side a useful tool and on the other side a deadly weapon. Millions of people were killed in the course of history with knifes. Thus, the classification of a knife is torn back and forth between tool and weapon.

Messer

Nearly all inventions have a negative flipside. On the one hand there is a practical benefit. But on the other hand they are used for unwanted activities with terrible consequences.

The tool is an aid that extends the human physical and mental abilities. Usually we have a larger toolset in our household – from kitchenware, to a toolbox with hammer and screwdriver, to our computers and television sets. We use these instruments, without being aware, how it would be, if they were not at hand – for cutting bread, for repairing or for learning.

Weapons are objects, with which organisms and things are to be damaged, up to death and/or the total destruction. The use is actually limited to certain specialists – hunters, policemen, soldiers. Thus, only a few people have access to weapons, wouldn’t be there tools that can be also used to do these destructive tasks.

Due to the unacceptable side effects that create some tools, inventors always have to ask themselves, whether they become guilty by developing these tools. Which questions could help them?

  • Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?
  • Are there more benefits than damages?
  • Do the opportunities that emerge count more than the dangers that develop?

For most of the tools the positive characteristics will outweigh the negative ones. The knife has by far more advantages in the household as disadvantages as a killing instrument. The benefit of cutting is bigger than the damage of killing. The possibilities of cutting materials or surgical procedures are surely more important than the damage that results from criminal or governmental killing.

Bottom line: A tool is always a latent weapon. Not for nothing there is a reason to speak of instruments of war or killing. Are there tools that do not contain these negative effects of a weapon? Probably not. With a common artefact like a knife with all its features this dilemma becomes visible.

A picture is worth a thousand (sometimes wrong) words

Over time we developed the conviction ‘Seeing is believing’. This means that one believes in the existence or truth of something, which one saw with the own eyes. Some are already convinced, when they learn about the seeing through second-hand. Images are an effective way to convey a message. There are rock paintings that already used the figurative representation thirty thousand years ago. As time went by the representations became more and more realistic. Today, we can participate in current developments even through moving pictures with original soundtrack and in real time. The picture is taken as proof. Many forget that the two-dimensional medium of a picture distorts reality with its perspective, frame and the moment of the taking. The consequence is that a picture says more than thousand words – sometimes even wrong ones.

Bildsagtmehralstausendworte

In the course of the Ukraine crisis the above photographs were taken in a meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama. Different photographs of the meeting appeared subsequently in several newspapers. We still trust the journalists as the last bastion of objectivity. The ethos of journalists, to always spread objective truths, should actually lead to reliable news. Let’s forget the special cases of the controlled, non-military war correspondents (so called embedded journalists) and the quasi-state-run press, since they are obviously propaganda. The associated attempt of the historical manipulation already began with Caesar, continued with Charlemagne and the dictatorships of the twentieth century, until today.

Let’s focus on respectable journalism that spreads news to the best knowledge and belief. In order to define a limit, there are some non-binding rules.

  • On the one hand news should be confirmed by at least two independent sources
  • On the other hand balance should be ensured by the fact that both sides of a conflict should be reported.

You find further aspects here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalism_ethics_and_standards.

A picture cannot fulfill the two rules.

  • On the one hand a picture is naturally from one source, the camera.
  • On the other hand the picture represents just ONE cutout of the reality that represents only the fraction of a second.

For these reasons a picture is always one-sided and unbalanced.

If we now look at the scribbles, we see four pictures of the same meeting, which were taken within a few minutes. Each picture creates another impression. What are the reasons to select a picture for publication? By looking at the procedure, from taking a picture to publishing, we encounter many filters.

  1. Taking the picture
    Photographers are the first filter. They decide the point of view, the cutout and the moment of the capture. Usually they photograph several photos within a short period. Subsequently, they select the photographs that fulfill the technical requirements – the requested sharpness and brightness of the picture. Additionally, they select images with regular gestures and facial expressions. Eventually the picture shown above end up in the agencies or media,.
  2. Distribution
    An agency is a broker for pictures and news, e.g. Reuters, DPA, ITAR TASS. They buy photos and offer them together with the agency message. The agency is acknowledged as an official source for the media. If two agencies provide the same message, the first rule is fulfilled. This makes the news item to reliable news. The selection criteria for the images are thereby hard to comprehend. In any case the picture selection reduces the message to one defined point of view.
  3. Publication
    The media editors (print, on-line, TV) had their own reporters in former times. That way, they could distinguish themselves from other media providers. Nowadays you hardly find salaried photo reporters. The photos are mostly bought directly from the freelance photographer or an agency. The advantage of an agency is the bundling of the picture with the press release. For cost reasons only the pictures are bought that are eventually published. The editor determines the ‘proof’ for the article by selecting the images.

Eventually the observer decides on its impression. Now look at the sketches above and consider, which picture you would buy!

About the mentioned meeting, on February 9th 2015, different pictures were used in different publications. What impression do the individual pictures create? On the left above? On the bottom left? On the top right? On the bottom right? And what was the real atmosphere of the meeting? Who might know.
In any case, people decided with the selection of the image which impression should generated among the viewers. A picture is worth a thousand words that do not necessarily correspond to the truth.

Bottom line: The times of ‘seeing is believing’ are probably over. Each event has any number of pictures that do not clearly express the real happening. Even blurred mobile phone photographs are used today, in order to convey a message to the public that cannot be guaranteed by the two rules. There is no other choice than dealing critically with these ‘proofs’ and to always consider the possibility that the message is wrong – whether we are deliberately manipulated or not.

P.S.: Do you remember the posed politician photo of the Charlie Hebdo demonstration?

The vulnerability of meaning

We interpret at any time a situation that results from the context, a statement or a relationship. Different perspectives create automatically different interpretations (more here: http://www.memecon.com/perceptual-positions.html). Rarely it becomes as clear as on March 15th 2015. The Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis was invited to participate via satellite in a German Sunday-evening talk show. There, he was confronted with a video, in which he was to have apparently stuck the middle finger towards Germany. On the basis of some aspects, the vulnerability of meaning becomes visible.

Varoufakis

Vulgar gestures produce much attention in the public – inconvenient for the one, who hangs at the finger; pleasantly for the critical rest. In Germany people know such cases from sports and politics.

Two videos form the basis for this blog post.

  • Video1 (in German here: http://ow.ly/Ld81d) shows the talk show with discussion participants in Berlin and, from Greece connected, Yanis Varoufakis. In a clip, that describes the past life of Yanis Varoufakis with some edited scenes, can be found in the broadcast from minute 23:39 to 26:13 (see below 1). The answer of Yanis Varoufakis, in which he denies the authenticity of the video, can be found from minute 26:16 to 26:52 (see below 2).
  • Video2 (in English here: http://ow.ly/Ld85F) shows the original recording of the meeting of his key note about his book „The global Minotaur“, in Zagreb, on May 5th 2013. The relevant cutout from the Q&A following his presentation with the mentioned gesture starts from minute of 40:20 until 40:36 (see below 3).

The producers of the talk show create with their presentation the impression that Yanis Varoufakis stuck the middle finger to Germany in his function as Greek Minister, which would have been a disrespectful affront. The following points underline the attempt of the television producers to inject negative meaning into this gesture.

  1. Günther Jauch, the host, assesses the clip at the beginning with the words „… the Germans are occasionally irritated, in which manner especially you… “.
  2. The clip produces an ambiguous impression with historical cutouts that are incomplete and torn out of context as well as were mounted in the wrong chronological order. The polarizing speaker in the off, who produces a logical, but apparently wrong context, amplifies this impression (see speaker in the clip text below 1).
  3. Günther Jauch underlines his assessment with the words „the middle finger for Germany..
  4. Günther Jauch often interrupts Yanis Varoufakis.
  5. The non verbal signals of the discussion participants are a further attempt to underline their assessment; e.g. the surprise of Günther Jauch, when Varoufakis denies the middle finger.
  6. The discussions are translated simultaneously by two interpreters. You can only hear the German translation and fragments of the answers of Varoufakis. We do not know, with which words the German parts were translated. It would be interesting to hear the actual statements.

Yanis Varoufakis reacts with a general statement „ I never stuck the middle finger“, which is obviously wrong. Or did he want to say that he did not stick the middle finger to Germany?

  1. He was appointed in the year 2015 as Greek Minister of Finance.
  2. The quotation „My proposal was“ is a suggestion for the year 2010.

The audience can make their own assessment after watching the two videos.

Result: So what drove the television producers to mount the quotations in such a way as if Yanis Varoufakis would have expressed himself disrespectfully towards Germany? We can only speculate about it. Visibly there is the attempt to deliver a certain meaning with the clip from Zagreb in the style of the “black channel” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_schwarze_Kanal. It would be desirable, if the public would not discuss in a populist style the middle finger, but the cheap shift of meaning in the “neutral“ public service media. In any case the vulnerability of meaning becomes visible.

Appendix

1) Clip text
Günther Jauch: „The Germans have the feeling that they already were solidary with Greece for a very long time. No country gave more billions to Greece than Germany. But all the more the Germans are occasionally irritated, with which manner especially you also acted towards our country. “

Cutout of the clip about Yanis Varoufakis:
Speaker: „Then the euro-crisis. Varoufakis writes articles, he gives interviews and makes videos, in which he explains the crisis.“
Varoufakis: „The rich made profits, but the poor had to fight like never.“
Speaker: „Varoufakis wants to give new self-assurance to the Greeks.“
Varoufakis: „Greece should simply announce that it is defaulting“
Speaker: „and stands for clear messages, particularly to Germany.“
Varoufakis: „stick the finger to Germany and say: Well, you can now solve this problem by yourself.“

Günther Jauch: „The middle finger for Germany, Mr. Minister? The Germans pay most and are by far most strongly criticized for it.

2) Answer Yanis Varoufakis
This video is wrong. That was doctored. I never did something like that. I am ashamed for the fact that one thinks that I am capable of such a video. I am sure, that you did not know it. But this is a fake. I never showed this finger. This is a faked video. Just like another one that is shown in Greece, where I allegedly stretched out my hand to a foreign politician and withdrew it at the last moment.

3) Original text Zagreb
“My proposal [in early 2010 added by M.L.] was that Greece should simply announce that it is defaulting – just like Argentina did – within the Euro, in January 2010, and stick the finger to Germany and say: Well, you can now solve this problem by yourself.” [The bold parts were broadcasted in the talk show.]

Free willing – Deciding without obligation

Free will is an important quality of our life. For example the fact that you clicked this article, is the result of a decision that you made freely. Possibly some key attractions, like e.g. the words free willing, accompanied you since hours, days or weeks and made you susceptible to click on this link.

The free will is used increasingly, in order to analyze the situation of other people and cultures. This can be clothing styles, questions about employment, political elections or cultural rituals. How free can somebody decide to be dressed casual on Fridays? Is it possible that sex workers do voluntarily their trade? How free are elections that obtain over 90% voter turnout? Do Japanese go voluntarily to their Nomikais (i.e. drinking meetings)? To what extent these are decisions of one’s own free will is judged more and more by outsiders. In this context arises the question, what free will actually means. Free will – Deciding without obligation?

Freiwillig

As soon as someone acts without wanting it, we call it compulsory. This is valid for example for the 20% of the employed part-time women in Germany, who would readily work longer, but have to accept part-time jobs. In all other cases, we actually speak of free willing, since the decisions are made with more or less freedom. The following free willing variants go from forced up to unconsciously coincidentally ones.

  • Threats – I want, because I have to.
    Activities that are accepted due to fear of negative effects. This includes the menaces of violence and the fear of losing something, e.g. an employment, property, or a partner.
  • Feigned, false facts – I want, because I believe.
    Activities that are done based on wrong assumptions. This includes wrong promises of politicians, lobbyists or other opinion leaders.
  • Necessities – I want, because it is necessary.
    Activities that are executed due to comprehensible reasons. This includes the insight to go to work, to stop at a red traffic light, or to obey laws.
  • Conscious, personal motives – I want, because I would like to.
    The closest to the natural term of the free will are activities that are decided due to personal motives. This includes the accumulation of possessions, quitting a an unloved job, or the marriage of the beloved partner.
  • Unconscious, personal motives – I simply want.
    Spontaneous activities that take place based on subliminal, personal motivation. This includes gut decisions for an impulse buy, the selection of today’s lunch, or the book for bedtime reading.
  • Unconsciously and coincidentally – (Just do, have, or think)
    Unforeseeable activities that take place for no obvious reason. This includes haphazardly strolling, a spontaneous talk with an unknown person or a daydream.

The question that remains is, whether these freedoms are not also an illusion.

  • Do we really have the opportunity to decide differently, if we are threatened?
  • What is the free space that the wrong basis for decision provides?
  • Do taught reaction patterns offer real options to specific needs?
  • How free are we, if we make our decisions based on conditioning through advertisement and society?
  • Do we really decide or is it the belly?
  • Is it free will, if we are simply driven by fate?

This shows that even free will decisions are not completely free from influence. To what extent this influence allows freedom at all is disputed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will

Bottom line: The free will is stretchable. For this reason, evaluations of free will of third parties should always be checked, whether it is actual obligation or one of the voluntary variants. Beware of cheap propaganda that is using the free will as a mean to slam potential opponents.

The volatile stuff

Information is the volatile stuff. One cannot grasp it. It is everywhere. And by its use it does not disappear – on the contrary. The more humans utilize it, the “more valuable” it becomes. Although it can be found everywhere, the question arises repeatedly, how to deal with it. The ownership, the application and the protection of information is hard to define due to its materiality, or better its non-materiality. For this purpose, first, a way should be found to define its tangibility.

Information

Since time immemorial, information was passed on mainly by oral tradition. Over time, the knowledge could be recorded in stones, clay or on papyrus. Starting with the letterpress, information became accessible for a broader public. As long as data are bound to a physical media, the tangibility can be ensured with the material carrier of the information. If someone wants to get the information, he or she must buy or borrow paper, celluloid, vinyl or the like. The massive duplication began with devices for reproduction, like copy machines, cameras, cassette and video recorders. With the Internet, information (i.e. texts, images, films, music, and tones) is again detached from a physical carrier material. All over, where electricity and terminals with net access exist, the information is available. The use is latently possible for all.

By looking at the many on-line exchange services, download centers and email attachments, it becomes clear that the free flow of information cannot be inhibited. Even out of strongly secured, top-secret sources, the information finds a way to the public.

A first step to regulate the information flow is to be aware of the types of information usages.

  • The private use
    is certainly the most frequent one. We know for years the use of newspapers, videos, and music CDs that are bought one time and circulated within families and friends. At least remuneration takes place with the purchase of the physical object.
  • The commercial use
    is the best-regulated one. As soon as texts, pictures, films, and music are used for commercial purposes, royalties have to be paid. That way, for example, the organizer of a concert, who is paid for the event, honors the work of the authors.
  • The indirect commercial use
    is difficult to control. In this case, customer data that was collected in a completely different context is stored, evaluated and even sold for further exploitations.
  • The governmental use
    is mostly not regulated. Although more or less strong privacy guidelines are proclaimed, the data leakages of for example American authorities’ show, what the government is doing with information.
  • The criminal use
    is still a completely unexplored area. About virtual „money laundering facilities“, credit card fraudsters, Internet-based sex industries as well as other criminal areas that happen in the Internet, we actually know very little.

If a conclusive structure of the information usage is found, a fundamental information ethics can be developed that offers the basis for further steps. Core element should be the informational self-determination of the creators.  Purely legal frameworks do not seem to work well, since unscrupulous users always find a gap in the law, in order to side step it.

Bottom line: The use of information has to be better regulated. Originators should decide upon the use of their information. It requires an independent instance, which is free of the interests of the players. 150 years after the wiring of the world, we lose control of the most important commodity of the future – the information.

More about meaning design.