Dedicated to Susan Griffin
Everyone expected an information economy,
and instead we got an information culture.
Lui, Three Trends That Will Create Demand or an Unconditional Basic Income
When Lui wrote his/her blog post some months ago, s/he dropped the sentence just in passing.  But it covers a main insight not only into what kind of ambiance we inhabit today, but also how it relates to former times, some 30 years ago, and the expectations then of a future that now seems already a bygone past. Since the 1980s, early 1990s, people expected some kind of “Information Economy,” also that “it” would change “somehow” “our” “culture.” But we never anticipated that the changes would consist in more than putting already given technological trends into overdrive. (In fact, this expectation fed much into the fear of that time of imminent armed conflict and ecological collapse.) Instead, we got something very different.
If for this “very different” we provisionally accept the term “Information Culture,” we may see clearer that what has changed is not so much the ways of production, dissemination, consuming, administration, even entertainment (although especially the last has seen huge changes). These may have been part of the changes people were ready to expect when they talked about “Information Economies” or “Knowledge Societies” back then. In fact, the term “Knowledge Society” now sounds as dusty and stale as those fanciful “visions” of the 1980s of paperless offices or of the 1950s of flying cars. The very idea that information and knowledge are objects or commodities, pieces of chunks to be handed to and fro, betrays not only the naiveté of a specific time but the profound unknowingness of what information and especially abundance of information would do to our understanding of us and the world we supposedly live in. 
The “Information Culture” that surrounds us, permeates us, impacts us, not just shows in what we’re dealing with on a daily basis. It is not just that a myriad of new “content” has come into existence that now occupies and/or distracts us. The rise of an Information Culture, of information as culture, went hand in hand with – in fact, was accomplished by – the re-creation of former cultural items in digital form. Whereas in former times we dealt with entities of rather different sorts (cultural artefacts, films, concerts, printed books) we now deal with entities that, despite being different in content, share the same ontological status in that they are digitals. What humankind has been doing the last 30 years was not so much the invention but the re-creation of a world in digital form. 
Interestingly though, the most spectacular innovations of the Information Culture have not been new ideas, new works of culture, of science, or art. Instead, innovations have happened in the area of technicalities like hardware, interfaces, programming languages, platforms of interactions, etc. But with regard to content we lack the same kind of outburst. It is baffling to see that one of the biggest upheavals in human society and culture since, say, the Reformation, has brought nearly nothing other than varieties of gadgets and ways of interaction. This Information Culture in which we now live for 30 years or so hasn’t yet brought about a new Shakespeare, Tolstoy, a Jan van Eyck, a Johannes Brahms or Arvo Pärt – it hasn’t even brought about philosophers or scientists of the stature of a Blaise Pascal, René Descartes, Alan Turing, or Kurt Gödel. (And perhaps it cannot, due to the mass of information and the ways academia works nowadays.) The expectation of a new Renaissance that would come with the massive employment of computers and connectedness, this expectation hasn’t yet come true. Perhaps it will in some future, but right now it far more brought about dystopian nightmares than the new horizons humankind has been expected to reach. 
The Information Culture may easily be dubbed a cult of information. And it would not be wholly wrong to do so, but it would miss the point. Because for the question of what the term “Information Culture” embraces, it would restrict the attention on the carriers, the tools, and less on the effects and presuppositions of their use.
Leaving aside the entities and gadgets of the Information Culture we may rather highlight (some of) the new features that came about with their use. Instead of looking what these digitals are and how they “constitute” this culture, it is more instructive to scrutinize what behaviour and attitudes the dealing with them trained us to accept and internalize. A culture is less made of things but of how these things determine our behaviour, our priorities, goals, values, our ways of acting. It is via this mediation that things specify and freeze a culture, and it is in this manner that we connect stuff with what we feel to be real. Likewise, it is the ways in which we deal with the world, changed by the introduction and prioritization of the digitals, and not the digitals themselves, that form the contours of this New Age. Some of these (at times contradictory) contours or features of the Information Culture are :
- data fetishism
- compulsive transformation of complex and filigree questions into questions of practical handling
- blind trust in and fixation on literal meaning
- gadget-orientated and gadget-mediated experience
- a revolutionary pathos that uses the hedonistic vocabulary of the 1960s/70s while at the same time breathing the fug of Victorian workhouses (“collaboration”, “Sharism”)
- a conception of “curation” of indigenous and other local (rather : oral) knowledges that applies onto them a Western concept of literal, i.e., detached knowledge, thereby making them mute (destroying what it aims to preserve)
- future conceived not in terms of social but in terms of technological changes
- information exchange and storage (via web) that utilize (unwittingly) features of orality in the medium of writing 
- “Materialistic Holism” in the form of systems thinking : complexity becomes a dynamic of changes that reduces its participating parts to mere crossovers into other changes (problems thus cease to be detectable) 
- as past and future stop being remembrance and expectation, respectively, and become “information”, we enter the limbo of the Big Now
- the Big Now that characterizes the Information Culture is the technological mimicry of an original “spiritual” timelessness …
- … in fact, it mimics dream states like TV once did in the 1970s
One astonishing aspect of this Information Culture is that information itself became the predominant cultural value. Information is culture. But what came about when information became goal and value in itself was that different modes of engaging with the world, particularly with regard to past, present, future (viz., remembrance, perception, expectation, as Aristotle put it), mingled into one : the processing of information, i.e., the registering, conversion and reification of information into “new” information. The result of this reduction in the ways of engagement with what was formerly known as “World” is the transformation of the world into one of data and information, creating the Big Now. This transformation has two sides : On the one hand, data fetishism brought about a timelessness of our world in which past, present, and future became diaphanous. Our world lost its time, and became this amorphous Big Now. On the other hand, when past, present, and future become mere modes of data and information, their apprehension likewise only needed one mode : intellectual comprehension. Accordingly, the reduction in the ways of dealing with (even understanding) the world additionaly furthered the tendency to restructure everything that is as information.
These changes of the last 30 years or so are not only profound in the sense that something new like digitals has come into being. Far more, they are profound in the sense that we cannot easily see how these new spheres and modes of being relate to our old worlds and our old ways of conceiving and doing things. As these connections seem severed, we lose our handed down political, social, and cultural histories, our understanding of what the world is made of and what the problems are that we face. Decades of attempts to formulate ways out of our planetary predicaments are now in danger of being lost and forgotten, as the Big Now defines and recreates everything anew.
Without much exaggeration we may say that one of our most precious “species” we are about to lose are our understandings of what our problems are, and the decades of attempts to find answers, solutions, and alternatives to them. We not only lose cultures, languages, biological species on a broad scale, along with them we also lose questions. 
With regard to this the potentially positive aspects of the Information Culture didn’t yet come to our attention as we struggle to rephrase our ways and conceptions in terms of the new culture. This struggle shows in part in that not so much the solutions but the problems of the last 200 years appear to resist easy rewording. Trying to describe them as mere relations and changes in some “ecosystem” of sorts, they only cease to be recognizable at all. 
But still we live in this inherited world, built from stuff, histories, compromises, second best solutions, folklore, customs, ideas, fashions, tastes, religious and non-religious heritage. How can these “old” features be rendered visible under these new conceptions, that is, perspectives? The answer is simple : Barely not at all.
Take for example the traffic in our cities. As they turned into “ecosystems” of intermingling factors (instead of civic entities with histories and characters), traffic still is essentially the same as it has been since the midst of the 20th century, just more complex, more polluted, busier, louder. In this new era of “management of complex systems,” traffic management now relies e.g. on the science of fluid dynamics, aligning the behaviour of fluids in tubes with the traffic in the streets. Accordingly, city administrators will come up with conceptions of traffic management that aim to enable optimal flow-rates for different traffic entities (cars, bicycles, public transport, pedestrians). As traffic increases, the struggles for space and speed enhance, and existing spaces are re-dedicated, e.g., when specific bike lanes or mixed-use sidewalks are introduced. That under such assumptions old people, handicapped people, children, are to lose out, is only to be expected. If the goal is the improvement of traffic flow (suggested and confirmed by huge traffic data collections and statistical projections), then intersections and traffic lanes will be built with the need of different velocities in mind, with the idea that every traffic participants’ goal is to get from A to B. Although the sequences of traffic lights may be long enough for the majority of road users, they will be way too short for the minority of old and handicapped people. (Likewise situations at intersections will be too complicated for children, the handicapped, the old.) What began as the attempt to come to terms with increased and diversified traffic ends up in putting heavy stress on every road user including the minorities mentioned above. No wonder that one doesn’t find many old or handicapped people or even children left walking in the streets.
What changed is not just how traffic problems are dealt with but how traffic as a concept is understood. Traffic seen as the movement of intermingling parts that try to rush between a myriad of A’s and B’s will influence city administrators’ plans to maintain or modernize infrastructure. The conclusions would be rather different if the safety of the old, the handicapped, the children would be put first, or if cultural and historic characteristics had an equal say in the modernization of a given infrastructure. But given the priority of practical constraints, budget pressures and data fetishism, these aspects will not count as legitimate factors in a race to the best cost-benefit-ratio. 
In the end only what is describable in this vocabulary of data, efficiency, and practical constraints, will count as real and important. The means become the end. Other aspects will be cut out of the deliberations and will only return later in the sanitized life style-movements of the affluent middle class, like Slow Food, Slow Reading, Slow Banking. Those “ecosystems” (formerly known as cities) will now be populated by individuals that don’t feel they belong to or form a community. They will refrain from pursuing a common good, and local politics becomes a struggle to gain and balance as much individual assets as possible. 
Our cities, grown over decades and centuries, are built like they have been built. Building or changing an infrastructure is a cultural act of planting and changing history. They are too complex to be adequately captured by the use of the means of the Information Culture. So only parts of a city’s problems can and will be dealt with – those that present themselves permissible to quantification, data collections and modelling. As the constraints stay the same but cannot be rephrased and substituted by some digital twins (i.e., models and predictions), they tend to be ignored, then forgotten. (This is all the more so as long-term city employees, forming the core of the “institutional knowledge,” retire and their experience is lost.)
When we moved to this new Information Culture something profound changed that still lingers only on the periphery of our attention, barely describable, only to be pointed to. Take the following two examples.
(1) We have a mass extinction of species in the natural world, a massive loss of languages, cultures, traditions, ways of knowing, and at the same time we have an explosion in data and patents in the cognitive sphere. But if it is true that things are connected, then what does this shift from “natural” diversity to “cognitive” diversity mean? What are its implications? What does it mean that people seem to cheer about the rise in “digital abundance” while at the same time they shrug off the massive decay in natural and cultural diversity.
(2) As information became a value and goal in itself, information and especially abundance of information has some strange effects on humans as on culture :
- too much information makes people stupid, too little information makes them self-centred
- the flow of information is not the stream of information
- abundance in the realm of nature nourishes people; abundance in the sphere of information stresses them
There is, it seems, an autonomous dynamic involved with information. This is not about something like “information wants to be free” but about the relation between people and information on the one hand, and the relation between information and nature on the other. My impression is that Information and the sphere it inhabits has taken the place, and thus superseded, nature and its inhabitants. What once was a relation and interaction between Man and Nature has now, in the 21st century given way to a relation and interaction between Man and Information. In what follows I want to sketch this succession that took place in the last 30 years.
The relation between Man and Nature isn’t easy to describe. Reason for this are conceptual difficulties one encounters when one thinks about this relation between both that is supposed to keep them (conceptually) apart while (ontologically) connected.
I find it convenient to describe the difference as well as the connection between Man and Nature (or Man and World) as the Dogma of Apartness.  The Dogma roughly states that the difference between Man and his surrounding World (or Nature) is somewhat like a “distance” between both, Man being here, Nature being there, and thus a “space” in between. Now if Man is distinct from Nature, then the attributes that characterize him cannot be such that they likewise belong to Nature. Also, the characteristics that define Nature are thus that they cannot pertain to Man. Now, if Man (here) is characterized as being animated, the “place” of character, meaning, fate, soul, morality, destiny, dream, will, etc., then Nature (over there) cannot exhibit these characteristics. Accordingly, Nature must be void of soul, character, meaning, morality, destiny, etc. In short, inasmuch as Man is animate, Nature or World needs to be inanimate; inasmuch as Man has soul (consciousness etc.), insofar Nature or World lacks it; and inasmuch as Man has meaning, Nature or World will be void of it.
Man and Nature being separated, the conundrum is how both can (still) be connected. In fact, the task is to keep the understanding of the terms as if both relata where distinct, while at the same time explain how they still can be in connection. The problem is how what has been conceptually separated can now still be re-united without loss in meaning.
Historically the way to understand the connection has roughly been this. The separation of both realms went hand in hand with the conception of two different sets of laws (or regularities) : those that pertain to Nature (i.e., laws of matter, causality, regularities) and those that apply to Man (mostly moral laws, later psychological ones). (This distinction is common in the 17th century.) But as Man has a body, it can be described in the same manner like Nature, in terms of causalities and material regularities. However, if the body of Man can be seen as being a part of Nature, then the essence of Man must lie in something other than his body, something that still distinguishes him from Nature. The more Man’s body is describable in terms of such regularities, the more the essence of Man withdraws – first to the sphere of inwardness, then more specifically to that of soul, psychê, consciousness, thought, etc. With this the attempt to describe the connection between both, Man and Nature, faces two options : Either Man becomes Nature, i.e., he is described as matter and its characteristics while losing everything that makes him distinct (e.g., 19th century Empiricism); or Nature becomes a “second Man” bestowed with soul, meaning, fate, thereby losing the features that make her Nature, i.e., matter, describable by the appropriate laws. (e.g., 19th century Romanticism). Either way, one of both gets lost.
The way out of this predicament is to have a model that freezes both spheres with their characteristics but allows for interaction. The best model (or image) seems to have been that of craftsmanship, in which Man bestows onto a senseless Nature a meaning via his craft and skill.
In the image of the craftsmanship, Man bestows his intentions and ideas on some matter that, as it is now free of own meaning, intrinsic value, form, becomes malleable according to the plans of Man. The downside of this model (now : attitude) is that once there is a scientific theory capable of describing Man’s inner (i.e., mental, emotional and psychological) workings, the craftsmanship can be and is applied onto Man as well. What once had been fates, demons, speaking dreams, now becomes something that Man is able to bestow his self-chosen meanings upon. The essence of Man withdraws even further. (What once had sense of its own now is either “neutral” or carries the sense Man bestows on it.)
Now the obvious question is whether there is something like a Dogma of Apartness of Man and Information. Can we likewise say that whatever Man is, Information is not, and whatever Information is, Man is not? And if so, what is then the connecting relation that renders the relata in a way as if they stood outside a defining relation?
If we insist that Man is something different from Information, it would mean e.g. that Man cannot be a content. He would be very different from language (he uses), from information processing (he performs), from being literal knowledge (he possesses). It would, on the other hand, mean that information cannot be human, cannot, that is, be any different than what Man independently grasps, or invents, or finds, or researches, or describes. Information would be something without a soul.
Seen along the lines of the Dogma of Apartness of Man and Nature, not only are both different, but trying to find a connecting relation will obliterate one of both. That either means that Information is something alive with own intention ands sense (“information wants to be free”), or that Man becomes Information, a human bio-computer, a computational machine, a system of information, feedbacks, loops, an environment, and via that connected to all other systems of information the world is made of like ecology, economics, etc.
The main point of the digression above has been to bring home the idea that in today’s Information Culture we indeed embrace this Dogma of Apartness between Man and Information, which leads us either to an inhumane annihilation of Man in a sea of information, or some elevation of information to the rank of something animate, with own intentions, soul, meaning, and fate.
It is this kind of scenario that systems thinking and the talk of “environments” envisage, where the distinction between Man and Information ceases to exist while the latter still conveys its innocence in order for both, Man and Information, to form some kind of unity. In fact, the reason why this information Culture is so appealing to many is that it makes room for a concept of immediate and timeless existence. In the era of Information, one’s resolution in the sea of conscious information becomes as attractive as the burdening aspects of a dying planet become all the more annoying (if not incapable) to resolve. 
We found craftsmanship to be the connection between Man and Nature in the former age. Likewise in the West the old concept of information was that of literality and literal knowledge, very much dependent on the switch from oral to literal knowledge in ancient Greece, when writing (later book making) became the craft by which a meaning could be placed outside one’s mind to the fore of others for them to study and, on equal footing, to access. Writing became the way of knowledge to be conceivable, objective and durable over time. Information became what could be grasped by reading. The times of orality and their different ways of knowledge had been gone.
The consequence of the Dogma of Apartness of Man and Nature is not only the conception that due to the independence of both Man is more or less unrestricted in imposing sense and meaning onto Nature. There is furthermore the consequence that both, Nature and Man, exist independently of each other. That means that Man in a profound sense is irrelevant to Nature’s well-being. We find this sentiment in every variety of environmentalism of the last 20 years (before that the level of critical thinking was more advanced). It states that Nature will survive Man even when he is already long gone, and that any negative treatment of Nature by Man will at the end be of no grave consequence for Nature. Nature / World will be without Man, but at least it will still be one, finding its own ways to balance & equilibrium.
It is important to see that this typical western view, resulting from the Dogma, is not shared in any other culture that isn’t hooked on industrialized Capitalism. In fact, in most indigenous world-views Man plays a vital role for the well-being of Nature, as it is his sacred offerings that nourish the Invisibles and the spirits of the land. Take Australian Dreamtime, take creation myths of the North American Diné, the annual cycle of rituals of the Hopi, the topos remains that if Man stops performing specific recurring rituals, then Nature / the World will cease to exist. In these conceptions, Man and his proper conduct is vital for the well-being of the World and the Invisibles. With regard to that we may ask how Man and Information may fit in.
Information is a strange beast. And perhaps it is not too strange to ask if there is something like a Tao of Information. If the Tao pertains to the unhindered way of things unfolding their essence, then perhaps there is something like that for information as well. There may be something in information, when it flows instead of when it streams, that may indeed govern and guide its presenting its essence. What can the essence of information be? Without going into the details of conceptions of information on the lines of Gregory Bateson (“a bit of information is a difference that makes a difference”),  we may say that in a profound sense information cannot be without Man, that humans are important for the well-being of information, that information cared about isn’t facts, data or content, but something different. If we stop seeing information as chunks of stuff, as items fixed in size, then we may reach some understanding that differences that make a difference are relative matters. Differences that make a difference, i.e., significant differences, are relative to the people (and the sentient beings around) to whom they are significant. They change between one person and another, as they do in one person over time, etc. If information is a constant movement between background and foreground, then information appears fluid, not static. Not only is it then difficult to say that facts are facts regardless of whether Man assures them. It becomes likewise plausible to ask whether it may be of importance for questions to be asked at all. It becomes easier to see that in the prolonged asking of these questions, a culture remains in its specific form. 
When information becomes fluid, it may still be abstracted to data and content, but a stream of information (as data) and a flow of information (as succession of differentiations) will then be rather different. This could mean that appreciation, the mindfulness towards the moment, is all that information requires to beam and in exchange to nourish us. Without clinging to information as fixed chunks of content in time, we revive the features of orality that repeat a story in a specific moment in time in such a way that binds the listeners, their memories, their futures, and the landscape they are living in, into one Big Now, a timelessness that even if it exists only for a brief moment in time, puts the parts that otherwise fall apart into one whole. Without chunks of information, greed will have no object, and the doors may open again for gratitude and joy.
 ∧ It’s not that the terms are very clear, but contrasting “information economy” and “information culture” rings a bell. Especially when we wonder how the third term, “information ecology,” fits in.
 ∧ Cf. my The Mind-Body Problem of Digital Information on the impacts of digital information’s missing “body” and our understanding of “content” thereof.
 ∧ One obvious example of this characteristic of being a re-creation rather than a genuine creation are endeavours like Wikipedia, the restructuring of search capabilities for scientific information, or the substitution of the material carrier of media content by now digital formats.
 ∧ Globalization wouldn’t have been possible without computerization, and without that the run for the lowest costs, the minimal labour rights, the poorest environmental standards, and the most prospering markets.
 ∧ Cf. my The Mind-Body Problem of Digital Information.
 ∧ Cf. for that my A Primer on Technology, esp. section 3.
 ∧ True, new questions arise as well, but the shift in emphasis is obvious : from cultural, social, political questions to those of technology, economy, management. But it is questions, not answers that seem to be the foundations of a culture, the frames that give a time its shape, that serve as the putty that binds times to a space.
 ∧ Again, cf. my A Primer on Technology, esp. section 3.
 ∧ So the description of what traffic problems consists of in this new culture struggles with two shortcomings: First, it thinks traffic in a way that will (and must) be dangerous to the weak users (or to users who don’t share the goal of rapid movement), and second, it forgets what traffic has most of the time been: the movement from A to B in such a pace that distractions, conversations, even deviations are not only possible but desirable. It forgets that traffic management is not about speed for the majority but reduction of stress for all, the city dwellers, the local environment, the urban economy.
 ∧ See Michael Goldfarb, “London’s Great Exodus”, The New York Times : Sunday Review, October 12, 2013, describing what happens to even affluent middle class communities in London when real estate becomes a global reserve currency.
 ∧ For a more detailed elaboration of the Dogma see my Towards an Economy of the World-Ingrained Self, sections 1 and 2.
 ∧ Gregory Bateson, “Form, Substance, and Difference”, in: Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind : Collected Essays in Anthroplogy, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology (Northvale, N.J. / London: Jason Aronson, 1972 / 1987), p. 460: “In fact, what we mean by information — the elementary unit of information — is a difference which makes a difference, and it is able to make a difference because the neural pathways along which it travels and is continually transformed are themselves provided with energy.” Note that Bateson treats “information” and “the elementary unit of information” on a par, so it isn’t quite clear whether he is talking about the term “information” in general or the term “elementary unit of information”. This was pointed out by Aaron Sloman, see his “Bateson did not define “information” as ‘a difference that makes a difference’ (And he would have been rather silly if he had.)” (2011).
 ∧ See Endnote 7, above.
* * *