“Information”: a hazardous category

“Information” is a pretentious word. So are its kin, “data” and “data points” (???) If bad writing is about things that are not concrete, then info-data is its muse.

It’s a fancy word for “stuff,” in the end. Imagine the following slogans recast to show how trite info-data is:

-“the stuff age”
-“stuff technology’
-“big stuff”
-“stuff analytics”

Some uses – “mobile data” – are more concrete. But look: it’s scary that a basic synonym probes the shallowness of info-data. It’s about air, about ideas that are festooned with flowery words like “solutions” and “digital” that themselves are blank, yet somehow add more character (“solution ” is at least evaluative; info-data is nothingness, less material even than “stuff” and its vivid homophones).

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Why resort to info-data? Because computers and the industries around them lack a clear reason for existing.

The Internet is an outgrowth of the telegraph that has done as much bad (spying, fake social media personae, argument for no reason, stress over minor things like email) as good (new tools for writing, reading, and chatting).

Computers themselves are often justified as “productivity” tools, but “productivity” is a ritual, not a result. New jobs and issues are created to feed the hunger for “productivity,” but it can’t be sated.

Like the Internet, financial services, and 100-hour workweeks, computers keep recreating the need for productivity, rather than satisfying its requirements. We’re solving a problem that isn’t there – maybe that’s why “solutions” is meaningless and a crutch.

Info-data is even more generic and, well, insincere. Something like info-data has always existed for humans, but it has enjoyed a moment now that it is associated with smartphones and PCs. Are “analog” media like books repositories of info-data? Why didn’t the invention of the codex form kick off The Information Age?

Whereas books have clear boundaries and purposes – a novel for leisure reading; a textbook for education – info-data media do not. The Web has no purpose, and computers, while no generating info-data, are little more than extensions of analog tools for gaming and writing.

The info-data lingo makes computers and the Internet seem profound, like clear breaks with what came before. But this language is vague, and it reveals summering so ordinary that terms for the most ancient, mundane things – information, data – have to be put into service because there’s nothing else there.

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