Difference between revisions of "Information wants to be Free"

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Full Title or Meme

A description of Information is caught in between the thesis of cost and antithesis of freedom. The synthesis is still a work in process.[1]


  • Stewart Brand famously said:[2]
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

Brand's conference remarks are transcribed in the Whole Earth Review (1985-05), p.49 and a later form appears in his The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT:[3]

But Robert Frost describes the fencing in of property as a struggle in this poem "Mending Wall" The narrator, a New England farmer, contacts his neighbor in the spring to rebuild the stone wall between their two farms. The core question is about the purpose of a wall "where it is we do not need the wall". He notes twice in the poem that "something there is that doesn’t love a wall", but his neighbor replies twice with the proverb, "Good fences make good neighbors".[4]

Norbert Wiener noted[5] that information has be tied to the media on which it was recorded. Very expensive when hand copied, and increasingly less expensive as it moved from printing press to the internet. Now the means of recording and transmission are nearly nothing, society is in the process of finding some other means to value the information. Information is free only in the sense that the recording and transmitting are free.

Modern technology has equated information with entropy[6] which has the advantage of separating the cost of the information from the cost of storing and transmitting it, but it misses out on the problem of assembling that information in the face of the second law of thermodynamics which predicts that eventually all information will be lost, nor of the inevitable dissipation of information over time.


  • Information is the coin of the realm of the information age, but money is still the metric of wealth. That cannot continue forever.
  • The internet has grown up with the morality of the Wild West where a man could take what he wanted and do with it as he pleased.
  • Money has value as wealth only to the extent that it can be converted into goods or services. Just as money only has value to society when it is in motion, so to with information. Stored in a dusty book in a library the information has no use. It must be applied to have value.
  • People change to adapt to their environment. The farmers of the middle ages became the industrial worker of the industrial age and now must become the information worker of the information age. We're headed to an age where people will be programmed by the AI that predicts the future and builds the systems for people that make that future happen.
  • Since the start of human civilization 30,000 years ago the grandmother taught the grandchild to navigate their society. In the 21st century the grandchild is teaching the grandmother how to use their smartphone.


The internet has changed. The synthesis is evolving. In the 2019-11-17 issue of The New York Times Magazine it was noted that a cleaner internet is available if you can pay. Increasingly, there's a suite of services that will help you escape the online cesspool, but it won't come cheap (Kevin Roose). We're in these silos. People who've been around since before those silos were crated ask. "What happened?" I could email anybody. It doesn't matter whether their account is in Facebook or Google or whoever. The Googles and Facebooks will realize, like AOL eventually did, we can't supply it; the [open] web can. The walled garden can be beautiful, but it can't ever be as crazy as the jungle outside the gate. (Tim Berners-Lee.) You've always had Louis Vuitton handbags. Now you have software that makes you feel the same way. The status-quo model projects 200 billion in total data-derived revenues, but with the A. I. accelerator Model the projection becomes 7 trillion in 2030. It's always been the case that humans expect more change in the short term than we get, but vastly underestimates the change that will happen in the longer term.


  1. Johann Gottlieb Fichte described self-consciousness and self-awareness as well as Thesis, antithesis, synthesis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Gottlieb_Fichte
  2. Roger Clarke, Information Wants to be Free http://www.rogerclarke.com/II/IWtbF.html
  3. Stewart Brand The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT| publisher = Viking Penguin (1987) ISBN 0-14-009701-5 p. 202
  4. Robert Frost, North of Boston
  5. Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics MIT Press ISBN (second edition 1961) p 161
  6. Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (1971-01-01) ISBN 978-0252725487