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ART: What is information?

An introduction to research for University of Redlands students

Learning objective

  • Recognize the ideological, economic and legal dimensions of information.

Dimensions of information

We all rely on information every day, but we don't always consider the nature of information, outside of how we can use it to meet our needs.

Information supports many functions of society. Let's examine three important dimensions of information:

  1. Information is created from a perspective.
  2. Information has an economic dimension.
  3. Information has a legal dimension.

Information is created from a perspective

Activists topple a statue of Father Junipero Serra at Father Serra Park on June 20 in downtown Los Angeles

Information is produced by people living in culture and shaped by social norms and expectations. Information can mean different things to different people, depending on how they are situated in society.

It is usually dominant groups that have the material and social resources needed to create information, and that information represents their views on what is normal and necessary. We can thus say that information is ideological - it embodies a perspective, backed up by power.

Discussing this case study can help us understand the ideological dimension of information. Works of public art can be said to embody information about society. Statues make powerful statements about which perspectives we should use to "see" ourselves as a society. What happens when movements for social change assert that this sight is distorted and needs to be corrected?

Information has an economic dimension

A screenshot of the paywall over an article about the coronavirus on the Los Angeles Times website on Sunday, April 5, 2020.

When you read the news online or download a scholarly article, you are consuming information that required the investment of resources (money, people, time) to produce.

Academic institutions, government bodies, and companies produce information on a regular basis. Employees with the necessary expertise are hired to undertake the work of creating, verifying and distributing information. This work takes long hours and requires collaboration among many different people and organizations. Money supports the investment of equipment and pays the salaries of many participants in the process.

Discussing these two articles about newspaper paywalls can help us understand the economic dimensions of information.

Information has a legal dimension

In Western cultures, copyright law states that information can be owned and exploited as property as soon as it is set down in a fixed and tangible format. The law automatically considers information protected by copyright as soon as it is created by individuals or corporations.

We can understand the legal aspect of information by discussing this case study of the "Dancing Baby" court case. A record label sued a woman named Stephanie Lenz who had recorded this video of her toddler dancing with Prince's song "Let's Go Crazy" in the background and uploaded it to YouTube. The lawsuit resulted in an eight-year court battle.

Key points

  • Information has ideological, economic and legal dimensions.
  • Information is created by people and organizations for specific purposes.