Information is for real

Information is all that stuff around us, in books, on TV and the radio, on the web, that helps us make sense of the world. As journalists, we have the task of processing information and presenting it as effectively and originally as possible. If we want people to take notice of what we are saying, we have to say something new. This is true above all on the Internet, where original content is valued more highly than secondhand content, by Google and other search engines.
According to physicists, information is not just some sort of intellectual activity. It is something as real and physical as electrical charge or heat. And it can be measured. The concept was developed by Claude Shannon, an engineer working for Bell Labs in the 1940s. He had the task of transmitting messages as intelligibly as possible over noisy channel, and reached the conclusion that messages saying something unexpected are more likely to get through than others. He was probably thinking about the hiss and crackle of white noise, and how to make the message sound as different as possible, but he generalized the concept. Thinking of today’s world, the media can be considered as a “noisy channel.” The more surprising the message, the more likely it is to get through.
Shannon worked on lines similar to those adopted by the 19th-century scientists who formulated the laws of thermodynamics and entropy. He said that the effectiveness of a message is linked inversely to its probability. For example, if the message is “tomorrow the sun will rise,” the probability is extremely high, and so the effectiveness of the message (sometimes called “notability” in Internet marketing) in a noisy channel will be very low. If the message is “tomorrow the rainfall will be 28 millimetres,” the probability of the message is low, because the number of possible messages of this type vary from 0 millimetres to a very high number.
Shannon actually formulated the information content – effectiveness – of a message in mathematical terms. His result was that the effectiveness of a message is equal to minus the logarithm of the probability of the message. So, considering the example of “tomorrow the sun will rise,” we could consider this as being certain, so probability is 1, and the effectiveness of the message is zero.
Possibly, mathematical analysis of this type is used by Google in their infamous algorithms that they apply to Internet information, ultimately determining the success or failure of websites and their ability to attract readers. It certainly gives us a clear idea of why notability of content is so important in communications. One of the Internet dicta is “content is king,” but if that content is not original, it’s not going to be king. Just background noise.