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. Store is a dusty book in a library the information has not use.


  1. Johann Gottlieb Fichte described self-consciousness and self-awareness as well as Thesis, antithesis, synthesis
  2. Roger Clarke, Information Wants to be Free
  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