Nature And Uses Of Information

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"One of the reasons that humans have risen to become the dominant creatures on Earth can be directly attributed to their innate ability to communicate and to store, retrieve, and use knowledge so that each generation does not have to relearn the lessons of the past in order to act effectively in the present." (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Information gathering and transmitting is almost as old as civilization itself. Consider the development of human communications:
• cave paintings with symbols representing knowledge
• the development of writing that enabled humans to accumulate and pass on information- e.g., Egyptian hieroglyphics; Greek and Roman alphabets developed to transmit messages, texts and numbers; Eastern scripts
• the invention of the printing press (1456) and the subsequent gradual spread of literacy
• the explosion of information that has led to the development of technologies to store and retrieve that information.
Today it is extremely important to be able to access and use information effectively and efficiently -that is, to be "information literate".

What is Information?
Information is knowledge derived from data.
Data is defined as recorded facts and figures (e.g., cost of raw materials, client statistics) that
result from observation, surveys or research. Data describes rather than evaluates.

Knowledge is data that an individual recognizes as relevant and is thought about, interpreted,

stored (in one's memory or in a variety of formats) or used for a purpose. That is, it has been transformed into information.
Information is the result of analysis, synthesis and evaluation based on available data. In other words, the data has been:
• organized
• structured
• considered
• communicated.
Information can consist of data, images, text, documents and/or sound.

Characteristics of Information
Information is often described as a commodity. It can be bought and sold, exchanged, accumulated and stored, patented and owned-but it is not depleted when used. Often the use of information actually expands it. This is apparent in the growth of the information source Wikipedia. The potential demand for information is unlimited.

Information is considered to be a personal, organizational and national resource of great value. The economy is based not only on industry and physical resources, but also on information.
Because its importance to the user is relative and depends on changing situations, times and needs, information is most valuable when it is quickly and easily available and effectively organized.

Why Seek Information?
We look for information:
• to gain knowledge
• to collect data
• to solve problems.

What is Good Information?
Relevant: Information must relate to the business at hand, and fulfil the needs of the user. In theory all the information required to meet the user's purposes must be available.
Timely: Information must be available when needed, within the timeframe desired by the user.

Accurate and complete: All available information should be accessible, with emphasis on the "right" information. This usually depends on the context.

Concise: Information must be understandable to those who use it, and must be able to be absorbed quickly enough for action.
Reduces uncertainty: A statement about the structure of an entity reduces the unknown about the entity, therefore good information should meet a user's requirements completely.

The informed decision is the best decision. For information to be useful for decision-making, it must be:
• the right information
• available at the right time
• available to the right person
• at the right cost
• in the right format to facilitate a decision.

What is Poor Information?
Irrelevant: Information is of little value when it is too old or out-of-date to be relevant to the user's need.
Swamping: Information is not helpful when it is too voluminous to allow a sensible interpretation to be made in the time available. It is the quality of information that is important, not the quantity!
Unclear: Information is poor when it is not presented in a way that will facilitate a decision.

Not all there: Incomplete information may fail to provide a clear sense of the entire problem.

Sources of Information
Information is derived from a variety of sources. These are described as: Primary: This is the level at which the information is generated-e.g., letters, scientific discovery, collated data, recording of an interview.

Secondary: Secondary sources comment on events, discoveries, etc.-e.g., textbooks, encyclopedias, yearbooks, commentaries, articles in a serial.

Tertiary: Tertiary sources are used to track existing information-e.g., indexes and abstracts, catalogs, bibliographies.

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