owner@idie.net, Jouke Kleerebezem idie.net/infoarcadia

introduction the following is a contribution to the InfoArcadia project organized by Stroom, the Hague NL, curated by Maarten de Reus and Ronald van Tienhoven, due on exhibition and in publication 25 January-22 April 2000. Its title was tapped from my Design Equals Information/Republic of Attention paper, presented at VisionPlus 4 information design conference, Carnegie Mellon University, 1998. Here InfoArcadia was described as either a utopian state of "pure meaning and communication", or as the projected designer Garden of Eden of emerging technologies:
"...the wired community's emerging industries are propagating the networked society as egalitarian, both in its means and ends. The Internet feeds global fantasies of equal access, presence and knowledge acquisition and distribution. In order to attain InfoArcadia, these industries depend on consumer feedback from day one. Those who are building the infrastructures and developing the necessary software to navigate these, need to invest in content and to build-in customization, in order to grow their markets. Goods and services, and indeed information: all content will need a seamless carrier flow in the one-to-one catering future. When graphic communication meets telecommunication, at a scale like it does today, old communicational and design expertise will have to mark up, or disappear."
Early 1996 I curated and programmed Silicon Rally for Stroom, as their introduction to the Internet/WWW. Although it is obsolete as a web site, it has quite some working odd links, still worth the detour. Recently I proposed an evaluation and update. They are looking for a sponsor :-) (12k)
inf0Arcadia als vertelling: inh0ud, v0rm en inf0rmatie in de Vroege Informatietijd - Summary


hosted by Innovation and Design for Information Empowerment

Jouke Kleerebezem the inf0Arcadia narrative: f0rm, c0ntent and inf0rmation in Early Information Age

previously published

Design Equals Information/the Republic of Attention

Remember Home?: towards an information habit

I DIE for change: design competence mark-up

"...what exactly do cabinetmakers do: they take a cabinet form (the idea of a cabinet) and force it upon a piece of amorphous wood. The trouble with this is, that not only do they inform the wood (forcing it into the cabinet form), but also they deform the idea of a cabinet (by locking it into the wood). So the trouble is, that it is impossible to make the ideal cabinet." Vilém Flusser

"One of the insights of the Victorian Revival was that it was not necessarily a good thing for everyone to read a completely different newspaper in the morning; so the higher one rose in the society, the more similar one's Times became to one's peers'." Neal Stephenson The Diamond Age 1995

Early Information Age
The Early Information Age in which the world, in fact primarily a Western market economy, finds itself on the threshold of the 21st century, is as much marked by the unprecedented growth of old media, as it is by the emergence of new communication technologies, products and services. Recent years produced an enormous diversity of printed matter and a constantly increasing television and radio supply. Books, magazines, newspapers and other media compete in euphoric speculations on the long boom, a new economy, the Internet and World Wide Web, and e-commerce's golden future. New media have been on the front pages for years now. Measured against criteria of topicality however, they are coming of age by now: their much hailed communication technologies all date back to pre-WWII (digital coding and data storage, encryption) or from the subsequent Cold War. They were developed out of military necessity, like the ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) network which brought forth the Internet. After an exclusive military use, universities adopted the technologies, until in 1993 they were opened to a consumer market in the shape of the World Wide Web. A year before, Tim Berners-Lee had installed the first graphic browser software on his computers at the CERN European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, to enable the sharing and mutual linking of documents containing graphical representations (images, typography, graphs, color). As the core of HTML (Hyper Text Mark-up Language), hyperlinks were developed to connect disparate files. Browsing software interpreted HTML in a graphical interface and the Internet connected the computers on which the files resided. Soon after, the information society shipped to a consumer market.

American and later European telcos enthusiastically delved into the market, and the Internet/WWW became a household name in the Western world. Since we see the fast migration of information to 'the' net, online media—a growing infrastructure which with the advent of cellular telephony goes increasingly wireless. Consumer goods have been designed and marketed, transportation companies and delivery services have opened new channels to a global market. Hardware prices decrease faster than new applications are developed, as a result of which these commodities are offered for free, as a part of the services, like in mobile telephony. This development will continue to a point where one will only pay for the signal which is sent, and finally only for the quality and quantity of the data transmitted. In many fusions and buy-outs between telcos, cable companies, media corporations and the press, publishers and entertainment industry an emerging 'content' industry tries to acquire market share for the 21C.

The Infoarcadia narrative is perused by a large part of the Western market. On the threshold of a new century, a new millennium, new media ready, a new age might come about, a true renaissance: the Information Age. The first signs of this renaissance we saw in old media, which have not been able to handle the information tsunami for long.

information, media
The current inundation of the world in printed matter is the inefficient embodiment of 'new' information in an 'old' agency. Old media cannot cope with this huge an amount of data. The magazine racks at the bookshop fail to be extended fast enough. Magazines are subject to interest specialization. If only for publications on new media—media which basically would put an end to our paper consumption—many feet of shelf space would have to be reserved. Not too long ago the average consumer needed one newspaper and one or two magazine subscriptions per household. The paper distributed its information over its thematic pages: front page, home and abroad, economy, science, culture, sports, ads and one or two pages of 'information': cartoons and television programming. Magazines were either targeted at women or men, with no interest diversification. This was only 50 years ago. When in the 60s an international youth and protest culture arose, an information market started its fast growth and diversification: information became a commodity.

An information market is insatiable by definition. It informs on information on information, infinitely spiralling through its content, like in an Escher drawing. Consumers got used to this enchanting illusion as easily as to the immediate accessibility of news and information from any field. The ethics of journalism, which previously served a certain restraint in the distribution of the news, dissolved in the enormous supply of often commercial, opinionated and myth forming popular stories, in which fact and fiction mix—like in the tabloids, or reality tv. We see no lack of content. Many publications' content overlaps, but thanks to a distinct tone, detail, format, or preferably a scoop, they build their proper audiences. Thanks to targeted marketing strategies, what used to be 'the' public has differentiated into a large number of specific interest groups. By itself the market created its constituencies' identities, in connection with the commodities produced. An initial fear of information overkill appears to be based on too conservative a calculation of our information lust. It is important to note that this lust is not based on consumption of information alone, but finds at least as much satisfaction in information production. Our intake and output capacities will appear directly proportional: if the latter is frustrated, the former will lose interest and consumption will decrease rapidly. Old media hardly supply the possibility to 'talk back'. Interactive television has kept us waiting too long to be plausible anymore. With old media, the consumer's influence is indirect, as letters to the editor, calling special phone numbers, 'live' attendance in talk shows. Interactivity is a different concept altogether. Telecommunication technologies, network technologies, the sum of tele-phony and tele-vision: the Internet and World Wide Web meet the conditions of real time many-to-many communication. Now a global information production can be formatted, channelled and distributed. The Internet became the carrier-of-choice for new media which will not only facilitate but as much structure the information age, and to a large extent determine its content.

old information, new media?
'Old' information was available by request. Old information was typically found behind a counter, at the end of a queue. Old information was in the small print. Old information was behind monumental facades and doors. Old information was authoritative and hierarchical, it streamed top down. Old information followed in the wake of new machines, services, medicine, art works, roads and buildings. Old information served these changes while legitimizing the societal strata which proposed them and which had them executed. Such information was distributed authoritatively by means of official letters and hand-outs, door-to-door sometimes, sometimes individually, in instructions, manuals, policies, on the stationary of lawyers, doctors, notaries and governments. Old information explained the rules, and how to obey them. Old information marked the beginning and end of changes, clearly specifying content and form. Form followed function, it followed content and underlined the rules, framed them authoritatively and pointed everyone's noses in the same direction. The design of old information, from a singular source, always aimed at clarification, explanation, and subsequent fixation, in order to prevent ambiguity concerning the content. Old information design made its messages singular, and final—to end change, to end interpretation, to end the story.

'New' information emerges in abundance, from endless sources. New information informs on information on information—it is produced everywhere and whenever we communicate. New information lifespan can range from nanoseconds to centuries. If the information market lives up to its promise and succeeds in keeping humanity under the charm of data communication, information lifespan will be prolonged infinitely. New information as is meant here is tied to human communication, produced by learning and working man. Information exchange in analogous and digital machines and in natural and cultural systems knows different histories (partly overlapping with and influencing that of interhuman communication), which remain outside the framework of this essay. The information age is of course the historical period in which every form of change is analysed as an exchange of information. In Infoarcadia this fact turns information exchange into a narrative: a new grand story, the next big ideology, a different ground for our paradigms, at the 'end of history'.

It is no simple task to design sufficient accessibility and flexibility, dynamics and solidity (and solidarity, meaningful coherence!) into a support system which facilitates an endless amount of sources, both private and public, in their communication and information exchange. This is not only technically complicated, but is particularly difficult for political and economic reasons. To truly provide for open and dynamic interactions the support structure needs transparent qualities, which are not always of interest to dominant politics or commerce. Video-8 proof of Rodney King being beaten up is just one example of the increased visibility resulting from the availability of the means for information production at everybody's hands. Wide and constantly shifting publication of 'confidential' Scientology documents on the Internet another. In Infoarcadia not only will all information sources be productive, but theoretically and in principle, technologically and socially equal. Such equality we only know from the old grand narratives, when they were called Utopias. We shouldn't be surprized however, that old sentiments reinvigorate in the framework of a new grand narrative, when new media and technologies are attributed utopian qualities, or projected as conditions. As a matter of fact it doesn't hurt at all to measure new ideologies against old sentences, from a new sense of reality. Revolutionary ideologies have also been left in the past because their time hadn't arrived yet, or because certain conditions hadn't been fulfilled. Such ideologies (and their products, services) are not at all the same upon their return, when they can benefit from a new aggregate, new conditions, or a new market, in which they support or start change. In the field of mobility for example, when our auto-mobility efficiency has reached its logistic limit, while the quality and speed of information-mobility increases at the same warp speed as its costs decrease, we witness a return of (transport and delivery) services that had long been given up.

New media arrive just-in-time for new information. Our appreciation of hierarchical values and static systems—for information which, thanks to the determined hand of design, runs top-down—has been gradually fading for several decades. Ongoing democratization and commercialization, the exponential growth of the communication market, and a craving for information fed by the popularization of news and knowledge, have shaped man after new images. These images show man both adapting and contributing to permanent change, the development of knowledge and experience in 'lifelong learning', with 'communication' at the basis of learning and working, in self-motivation and self-determination. It is the golden information market of change. The quality of learning and working 'information' is not so much measured against the monuments of knowledge which are erected, as it is measured against the eruptive dynamics with which its support system develops. We can predict neither quality nor scale of the moments and monuments which will emerge and frankly, they do not matter. We will (have to) content ourselves with the bold energy of the information system, which feeds us news and knowledge in continuous communication, in the concentrated or broad interaction with which we are engaged. Meanwhile we will have to actively seek attention for our own production of knowledge and opinion, our life's project. The old commercial media retire from the restless dynamics in a familiar role: propagating the new world.

no-form-no-content information design, or the art of warming up on wildfire
The deceptive image is not exclusive to a singular authoritative source but can also be produced by collective delusion. Every image can be deceptive, no matter how many sources confirm it. There's no more infectious viruses than the ones with which information sources contaminate one another. The most common one is a true classic: universality. Previously a deceptive image was issued by decree, including the rules which were designed to guarantee obeisance to the image. Collective delusion produces a deceptive image in the interactive dynamics of repeatedly communicated information sharing. Contemporary universality viruses spread like wildfire. A good example are computer viruses which frequently disturb the Internet communities: it is less often an actual virus than the alarming communication of its existence, which is highly infectious. The millennium bug to date surpasses all deception. All the distress which Y2K brought was caused not by computers running amuck, but by the anticipation of information on possible dysfunctional systems. The communication network which facilitates the information society supports the unlimited speed and reproduction of any message. The wildfire Early Information Age warms up to pronounced universality of information exchange as its ruling principle: 'all information anywhere available to anyone, anytime'. The paradox of all this vaporous accessibility is that information doesn't get an opportunity to acquire a form, let alone content: the classical design problem of mutual content/form dependence meets a new challenge in information which is 'all change'. No form means any form—any form meaning no content...

Old media design has convincingly proved that it possesses the power to render a deceptive image with form, hence content. This is the actual creative power of design. In some cases it resulted in the unmasking of an original deceit, when behind the mask of a gratuitous image, the face or conduct of a useful or pleasant product or principle could be perceived. It should be design's general duty to be committed to elucidate the demasking masquerade of the play of relationships between bamboozle and business, claim and quality, and to explain and test the rules, all the while leaving the decision to play along or to obstruct, to the user. Too often design was complicit in the original deceit, only to every now and then overcompensate by heralding a just as delusive image as its alternative truth. What I call the 'design fix', the erroneous belief that every shortcoming of visual communication can and should be designed out of it, against ambiguity, served old media convictions and politics both 'left and right'. It made design to what it was: a creative act operating under the pretext of objectivity, which assigns certain content the inevitability of certain form—design as fixation, a deathly reduction of possibilities to assertions. Design fixed the 20th century.

The ingenuity of human perception and reflection (human intelligence) always stood up against the design fix and dreamed and discussed its own interpretations (in what can be regarded as original information lust). Herewith it forced new meaning upon content and actually prevented the modern design project ever to succeed and finish—though the world has suffered some close escapes over the past century. Beyond the perverse and militant mutual dependence of content and form (which, as a sign of overdue modernism, today is only fought out locally), a new form of communication reaches us, introducing the equally important grand narrative of information. Information does not manifest the stabilizing relationship between content and form which we analysed before. Instead, at the same time and in one 'strategy', of editorial and organizational and interface design, it articulates and constructs (its proof of integrity) a different narrative than the ones issued by decree. Information is rather a narrative technique than a narration; an open format, a framework or context within which narratives that lack a fixed content or form resonate... unpredictably like wildfire indeed.

The design of old information built reasonable bonfires, hearths, burners and boilers, chimneys and matches, waste incinerations and fireworks... and many a woodpile for sure, but never a nice comfortable wildfire. Information design of 'new information' lacks the tangible presence of content and form, as solid fuel. Instead it overlooks the dynamic moor fire of information exchange, in which form is as much content as content itself, and both are mere manifestations of data: deceptive images with a high illusion of authenticity, but with no material memory. The memories through which these fragmented images pass at high speed are distributed over the entire network. Who accesses them, browses a map in force for the communication at hand, which devalues already during its viewing. All overviews perish under the dynamics of the system and the individual transactions it allows. After all, how can an individual phone call be designed? Absurd as this question may seem, to find itself a new commitment, information design has to ask it. If consumers become producers, when we 'learn and work' in consultation with and by recommendation of friends and family, neighbours, colleagues—when this continuous exchange of information and interest sharing takes place in countless networks, private and public expression will merge and another question arises: who makes an individual phone call anymore? With disregard to the exhibitionist communication habits invited by cellular phones, our telecommunication will become ever more so public. Information society is dependent of information's publicness. To be successful, a new media renaissance must be a people's renaissance, a market renaissance. If all information sources are to equally produce and consume, this will happen out loud, visible, 'in' public. Information design will be as remote from rendering determined form to pertinent content as we can imagine.

To bring together and represent seemingly unrelated bits of information from disparate but mutually sympathetic or relevant sources is an excellent information design challenge. The context of information will both have to please and serve its consuming/producing user in a functional and emotional sense, to fit his or her needs. What is most commonly referred to as usability is actually context fine-tuning, an editorial/design skill pretty much yet to be recognised, which escapes the ruling design fix consensus. Every communication, every transaction of information is embedded in and fed by the fast background calculations in the network. Every new transaction in turn feeds these calculations and extends the system's intelligence. Doing so endless histories are written. At any moment these histories can be retrieved from the system's memories to identify new relevant transactions. We are only seeing the primitive beginning of this intelligence at work in telephony, when a user's communication habits are monitored in real time and his contract adapted in order to guarantee the cheapest rate. The information gathered by larger stores on the consumption habits of its clients is only used to finetune and time its supplies. The value of this information is priceless. Currently the consumer provides it either unknowingly or at the benefit of a small discount in exchange. For how long? 'Usability' and 'accessibility' are an information industry's priorities only because real time interaction with a systematic memory still scares the shit out of most people. The market is forced to put transparency and accessibility against an increasing information awareness and even pride with the consumer, not to lose trust, and market share. In Infoarcadia, the consumers are the media. They produce the information which drives the market. The productive consumer is also information design's only commissioner. As soon as the user is aware of the value that his information adds, this should be included in the market's calculations.

'it's me...'
Early Information Age's mantra sounds: 'it's me'. 'It's me' who calculates the information market's rates. My habits, my interests, my needs guide all transactions. 'It's me' who fans information's wildfire to spread around wider and faster. 'It's me' who is identified by the commodities that I obtain to communicate with the world. 'It's me' and my development that guide the services bestowed on me. 'It's me' who contacts a provider by using his telephone service, a publisher or editor via the magazine rack, my doctor and the pharmaceutical industry via my medicine, an author via a book, a musician via the music: 'it's me' who opens and closes all the connections. Early Information Age is my age. My voice is a clear voice in the information choir: so if I am invited to lifelong learning and working, or lifelong information production, 'it's me' who settles the terms. Information no longer simply streams towards me, since an outgoing stream is monitored, to adjust any input to my needs. I receive who I am. 'Welcome back Jouke Kleerebezem, we have some recommendations for you. If you are not Jouke Kleerebezem, click here'. Hey, it's me! The shop which addresses me like that is of course Amazon.com, largest of online retailers. Why would their welcome surprise me more than the one at my street's bakery?

Our baker doesn't bake a bread that's only tasty to me. The fire in his stove burns for the entire clientele. But Amazon could all of a sudden offer me a volume with otherwise unpublished texts by my favorite writers. Published in an edition of 1. Straight from their database. Which language would you prefer? Do you want your copy printed, hardcover or pb, with or without bookmarker—or electronic, as a hypertext with secondary literature sources, links to websites? Would you like to exchange mail with the living authors? Would you like to know how author A critiqued work X by author B? Would you like to have your own 1999 inf0Arcadia included in readers like the one we're offering you? If so, would you still have in your possession some unpublished original notes, or sequels to that text? We can manage your notes in your account's database, which is only accessible to yourselfŠ At any chosen moment you can lock or unlock parts of its contents. Every publication provides you with a measured fee, which' sum total depends on the amount of words, the wealth of its buyer, your possible interest in a continuation of a relationship with the buyer, possible earlier salesŠ only depending on the power of Amazon's database this can go on. Early Information Age means work to be done. Not for the baker, in the first place—not for his bread at least, but for his information, which will be subject to the same dynamic interaction as my Amazon account. It's me now, who needs information design to guide my transactions, and the baker's and Amazon's. Information design provides the necessary 'mark up' of all my transactions. Design is meta-information: information on my information, which makes me recognize relationships, patterns, which helps me manage, annotate, bookmark and link. Visual meta-information is of major importance for the legibility, both of patterns of exchange and of actual information bits.

all the people's information
As explained above, it's the consumer who produces the information which drives an information economy. The radical consequences of this principle are by no means generally accepted among digerati. Its prime importance is only occasionally admitted, but we are far removed from technologies and services being developed and designed to fit the concept. A too information-sure consumer would not benefit the industry's short term gains. Yet the inevitable intermediation explosion will demand smarter and longer term calculations. 'Disintermediation' was one of the first conclusions in the new media theoretical discourse. Today we see intermediation multiplying. Every single productive consumer is an intermediary. Every recommendation which leads to another transaction has to be taken into account. Who applies the pertinent saleability of old information to new media loses reputation and market share. At first the individual consumer will let himself be taken advantage of, but at some point recognize his or her pivotal role in this new narrative. At that point (s)he might look about for alternatives, for a better reward for the profile of interests and purchases (s)he offers, for better recommendations than Amazon's or better bread than the street baker's. The only partner to be found at that moment is a co-producing new consumer, who also mediates learning and working, producing knowledge and news, churning out the information which drives the new economy. Then will have to be seen whether the support structure can endure an information upheaval. With all individual needs that are being satisfied in Infoarcadia, with all its customization, with all its divide-and-rule strategies, with all personal recommendations, one principle of solidarity catalyses iconoclastic insurrection: ownership, the power of production. Science fiction author Neal Stephenson exemplifies in the introductory quote how power is served: in the sharing of information, the sharing of sources, sharing of knowledge and news: 'the higher one rose in the society, the more similar one's Times became to one's peers'. Beyond customization and the individual differentiation of products and services and information, the prime law of power awaits, demanding togetherness above all. Who shares best, rules best. The story's just begun.

the blind leading the blind
As is expressed in the title and introduction: information is a narrative. A new grand story, the next ideology, the dream of communication, of lifelong learning and communication. This narrative, Infoarcadia, constitutes the foundation of a new historical period. Judged from the past 7 years', since Tim Berners-Lee's HTML, and Mosaic browser, so far the investments of a young information industry are moderate. However capital they seem to be, they sink into complete nothingness if compared to the investments which they eagerly anticipate: those by the productive consumer. The story of the Information Age does not come to us from a canonical source, but resounds from a chaotic market's cacophony, fed by humanity's information lust. As I said, it is a grand narrative: arrogant, enthusiastic, innovative. And it's just begun, which stimulates its speculative quality: it allows for dreams and fantasy. This does not make the distinction between bamboozle and business, between claim and quality, a whole lot more clear of course. Yet it is precisely in that area of tension that every good story, large and small, unfolds.

(translation by the author, big thanks to Judith Zissman)

"...was eigentlich Tischler machen: Sie nehmen eine Tischform (die 'Idee' eines Tisches) und zwingen sie einem amorphen Stück Holz auf. Das Malheur dabei ist, daß sie dadurch nicht nur das Holz informieren (in die Tischform zwingen), sondern auch die Tischidee deformieren (sie im Holz verzerren). Das Malheur ist also, daß es unmöglich ist, einen idealen Tisch zu machen." Vilém Flusser

Summary toc

Early Information Age main
    Old media abundancy (books, magazines, tv channels) is the explosive embodiment of 'new information' in old publishing format. Overload calls for new media.
    New media short history, short introduction. Market development since 1993.
    Content industry is shaping up for 21C. Fusion of telecommunication, publishing, entertainment and media industries, to compete for eyeballs.

information, media main
    The information commodity and its insatiable market of 'information on information on information'.
    Information production is as important as its consumption. The user will demand both, or loose interest. The importance of symmetry.
    Need for two-way, real time interactive media.

old information, new media? main
    'Old' information served old hierarchies, 'new' information springs from abundant sources, each with its own authority, or reputation.
    How to respect endless sources and traffic in the supportive communication structure: technically and politically, and commercially. The return of old sentiments and old ideals (egalitarian information access) find new affordances in the emergent information structure.
    The dynamics of the information infrastructure might lack the development of monumental knowledge. Theirs is a different reward for inquiry and communication: continual interaction and individual development. Lifelong learning, and working, as information production.

no-form-no-content information design, or the art of warming up on wildfire main
    Viral contamination breeds treacherous imagery. With endless sources and endless authority, the old virus of universality reproduces successfully.
    Information design in a non-fixable environment. Information as a narrative. Design as a structuring rather than a fixing skill. 'How to design a personal phone call?' 'Who makes a personal phone call anyway, this day and age?' Private/public complexity in dense information exchange. Place your vote where your money is. The producing consumer is the only client.

"it's me..." main
    Early Information Age's mantra: "it's me". It's my communication to inform the information market, it is my accounts. Radical customization: expect the expected. Information is my labor, of life, of love, to be rewarded.
    Information design is the mark-up of my transactions.

All information of the people main
    Information pride with the new consumer. Linking consumers to each other to exchange recommendations builds endless agencies: the end of intermediation is only in its infinite reproduction.
    Power is in the sharing (see opening Diamond Age quote). The power of information production opposes the content industry's customization 'divide and rule'.

the blind leading the blind main
    Information is the new grand narrative, the new ideology, at the end of history. Infoarcadia industries' capital investment shrinks into insignificance when compared to the investment it speculates upon: consumer production of information.
    Speculation Rules Any Narrative. The story's only just begun.

lastupdated: 2000, June 20
updatemomentum: 2000, January 22