Not Fade Away? Of news and its decay

This from a 2001 book project of mine…

The value of any bit of information may be subject to decay, that is, its value is determined by two factors, either of which lose value over time. These two factors in fact conflate into one. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll consider them first individually. The message value can be derived from its intrinsic statement value, or the value of what it says. The meaning of any bit of news information, for example, decays over time as it becomes obsolete. This is a truism particular to news: news is a kind of information whose value is defined by its currency, or “newness.” News has value based in how new it is. The second factor is value attributed to the act of sharing. I am more inclined to share a bit of information or news if it seems valuable to me that I share it. This means, simply, that I have to feel that it’s worth passing this news along to somebody else for me to do it. These two factors conflate into one insofar as I am always the one who determines the value of a bit of information, both in terms of its intrinsic meaning/value and in terms of the value obtained in sharing it. My decision not to share something with others implies that I no longer think it is that important, and hence there’s no compelling reason to share it. Neither news nor other information has value outside or independently of the population in which it circulates or proliferates. To put it another way, there is no such thing as value without subjective interpretation.
The implication of this is surprisingly far-reaching. It means that in a society whose economics are defined ever increasingly by information, and in which the primary role of an ever growing part of the population is information management, and in which virtually no living citizen can negotiate daily life without some level of mastery of a mind-bogglingly complex set of facts and figures, information decay is beyond the control of its authors and consumers. Nothing, virtually nothing, anybody says, regardless of how authoritative s/he might be, holds its value. Nothing that is said continues to mean what it meant to the first speaker and listener once it has entered a network of proliferation. This is in part why markets today behave the way that they do: with a high degree of volatility. Some observers may call it psychology, but in fact it’s more than that. The networks by which information proliferates today make information highly susceptible to changes in interpretation on the part of information consumers. A statement taken to be true one day is discredited and valueless the next. Pundits can never be wrong one day, the next their proselytizing falls on deaf ears. The moment a network of individuals begins to interpret a statement or event differently (yesterday with a hooray, today with a shrug, and vice versa of course), information ceases to proliferate. Messages with the opposite meaning will proliferate instead. The net effect? Volatility.

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