What's the Matter? What's the Difference? What's the Use?

The dynamic radiative information environment, the flow of information, and the sensory and communicative nature of information, have not been included in most whole-systems ecological thinking and applications, to date. It is a major error in human understanding that will have troubling consequences, as we increasingly interact with and manipulate this fragile ecosystem.

Ecology is the study of the complex relationships between living and non-living, inter-dependent dynamic systems. It describes the fragile balance in which such systems interact and by which they co-evolve. Information Ecology extends our basic understanding of ecology to include the physical, social and economic transformations being wrought by the rapid developments in information technology, networked learning, and by our becoming an increasingly networked “society of mind”.

Information is not just data or bits. It is not simply a useful natural resource; a commodity that can be sent and received, bought and sold, and regulated. Information must also be considered as patterns of perception, genetic expression, cognitive relationships and differences. The flow of information determines the course of social evolution. Decisions regarding spectrum allocation, regulatory interventions, copyright, property, privacy, digital divides, technology development or “new economies” cannot be effective, if made without an ecological context.

Today’s Information Revolution, if it is primarily a technology mediated revolution, will likely result in increased consumerism, social systematization, bureaucracy, waste and war. The more cumulatively energy consuming and less ecologically sustainable, the more fragile technological progress will become; and ultimately more disruptive in its potential (inevitable) failure.

There is much to do to integrate matter, energy and information into a whole systems ecology. Becoming a bit smarter about the way the world works, may also be dangerous, coming into conflict with long dominant, vested-interest belief systems and ideological fictions. Education, thoughtful exchange, research, creative practice and respect for differences are needed. There is no solution, however. We can only begin to take small “steps towards an ecology of mind”.

1995 / 2004