Why is Information Valuable to us?

We all recognise that information is valuable – if you’ve ever paid for a newspaper or magazine, you have demonstrated this. But why – specifically – is information valuable, and why is one piece of information more valuable than another?

There are three ways information can be valuable to us….

  1. It entertains us
  2. It helps us make better decisions
  3. It helps someone else make better decisions, and we can exchange this information for something else

Entertainment Value

We pay for films, music and video games. While some movies and song lyrics do help us think about issues in our lives, we generally use them for short-term entertainment. We value them because they give us pleasure. They change the way we feel.

Generally, the more pleasure they give us, the more we are likely to value them.

Decision-Making Value

A lot of the information we seek out and deal with – particulary in a working environment – is really about helping us make the right decisions.

  • You may have a Satellite Navigation system in your car to help you decide when to turn left and right on the road
  • You have a phone book so you can decide which numbers to press on your phone to call a friend
  • You look at the message boards at the Airport to decide which gate you need to go to for your flight
  • You check the weather report on friday morning to decide whether to call off the barbeque you’ve got planned for the weekend
  • You look at your car’s speedometer to decide when to stop accelerating as you’ve reached the speed limit

All of these examples show how this information is really about helping us make better decisions.

If we don’t use information, we can only base our decisions on what we receive directly through our five senses, or from what we already know.

The more significant the decisions we are making, the more we will value the information that helps us make the right decisions.

Exchange Value

The third source of information value comes from the fact that we often acquire information not because it either entertains or helps us make the right decisions, but because we know it will entertain or help other people make the right decisions in their lives. We can then exchange this information with them for something of value to us. We can think of this as information’s tradeability value.

Most information workers do exactly this. The reports that we produce at work are often just to help someone else make a better decision. We exchange this information for our wages.

It can involve the information being exchanged several times before it eventually reaches the decision maker, so it is not always obvious that it is about decision making – sometimes you may think you are just producing reports for the sake of it.

As with the decision-making aspect of information, the more significant the decision the other person is making – and the more the information you are providing will help them make a better decision – the more they will value the information you have to offer.

The exchange value doesn’t necessarily have to involve money. It could also apply to conversations we have. We keep up with news, current affairs and celebrity gossip not because they directly affect us, but because it gives us something to talk to others about.

Combining

Most information we come across contains a mixture of these three sources of value – a novel may be entertaining, but it also teaches us about morals, and it also gives us something to talk to our friends about.

Infogineering is primarily concerned about the decision-making and exchange values of information.

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