The infosphere is a metaphysical realm of information, data, knowledge, and communication, populated by informational entities called inforgs (or informational organisms). It encompasses both online and offline environments, extending beyond cyberspace to include analogue information as well. The infosphere is a concept that has been discussed since the 1970s, and it has been compared to the sociosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and atmosphere.
The infosphere can be seen as an environment comparable to, but different from, cyberspace, as it also includes offline and analogue information spaces. According to some, like Gilbert Simondon, a French philosopher best known for his theory of individuation, equating the infosphere to the totality of Being is possible, leading to an informational ontology. So, the infosphere is generally an envelope of information and data populated by inforgs.
The History of Infosphere
Infosphere can be traced back to the early development of information technology and the rise of the Internet. While the term "infosphere" itself did not get widespread recognition until the late 20th century, the concept of an environment populated by informational entities, or inforgs, has been discussed since early 80s.
The term “Infosphere” was first used in 1970 by Kenneth E. Boulding, an American economist and educator. He viewed it as one of his system's six "spheres” (the others were sociosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere). In his words, “the infosphere...consists of inputs and outputs of conversation, books, television, radio, speeches, church services, classes, and lectures as well as the information received from the physical world by personal observation…” This was a testament to the infosphere's enduring impact on the interconnected human experience.
In 1971, R.Z. Sheppard, a renowned book critic and reviewer, used infosphere in a Time Magazine book review. He wrote: “In much the way that fish cannot conceptualize water or birds the air, man barely understands his infosphere, that encircling layer of electronic and typographical smog composed of cliches from journalism, entertainment, advertising and government.” Sheppard underlined the challenge of understanding the infosphere's intangible yet pervasive nature, an intricate web of clichés that continues to shape the collective consciousness.
Alvin Toffler, an American writer and futurist, also used the term in his book The Third Wave in 1980. He wrote: “What is inescapably clear, whatever we choose to believe, is that we are altering our infosphere fundamentally...we are adding a whole new strata of communication to the social system.” The Infosphere has evolved alongside advancements in technology and the increasing complexity of data management systems.
Today, the infosphere is a crucial aspect of modern information technology, with various tools and platforms designed to help organizations manage, integrate, and govern their data and information. For example, IBM's InfoSphere Information Server is a leading data integration platform that assists organizations in understanding, cleansing, monitoring, and transforming data. So, apart from the metaphysical realm of information, we also have the designed tools that help manage data.
The Prospect of the Infosphere
The infosphere is a transformative fusion of the Internet and computer technology that is reshaping existence. Luciano Floridi, a Professor of the Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford, guides the narrative in his journal, emphasizing the profound intertwining of morality, identity, and meaning within this technological revolution.
The infosphere promises a dynamic future, offering unexplored avenues for wealth and job creation. However, amidst the allure of improved lives, caution is advised. The current wave of technologies is made to be more focused on redefining people as mere data points — words, numbers, or images processed effortlessly by the infosphere. While algorithms promise to simplify life, they risk stripping away its deeper meaning.
The deeper meaning in human lives is found in the thoughts and feelings, things that can't be neatly categorized or turned into data. Important aspects like beauty, truth, love, trust, loyalty, and judgment can not be easily measured. The question is, could a tech-focused society turn people into just data, missing out on the rich human experiences? The answer is yes, if it gets too caught up in the allure of simplicity.
Will There Be a Concern?
Humans find themselves immersed in various programs of the algorithmic society, embedded inconspicuously in the surroundings. While the infosphere streamlines lives, a concern arises — they might also subtly control them. As noted by the President of Britain's Cartographic Society, Dr Seppe Cassettari, sedation by software raises worries about diminishing essential skills. The concern extends to a generation unable to read a map, relying solely on GPS and satnav.
However, not all data is as concrete as it appears. Much of it is ephemeral, vanishing when websites update. The reliance on data and technology, meant to structure and ease human lives, unveils an unsettling truth — they aren't always reliable. Printed documents, real books, and strong memories might remain essential in a world where data and technology's reliability wavers.
The algorithmic management is already making its mark, emphasizing efficiency over effectiveness. The idea that sticking to routines and automated work makes everything more efficient overlooks something crucial — the importance of doing what's right. That requires judgment, vision, and courage, things that can't be programmed. This push for efficiency often limits human choices, as seen in platforms like Amazon, which subtly guides people's choices.
Living in a data-packed world raises privacy concerns. Even when a mobile phone is off, it can reveal where the owner has been and who they had talked to. The constant surveillance of human data makes it seem like there are no more secrets, turning personal habits into an open book. It's a challenge to go about a world where big organizations have much control, making people question how much control they have over their lives. This could even be worse in the future.
Dealing With the Infosphere Now and in the Future
Everyone should enjoy the cool things that come with the infosphere evolving but without getting stuck or controlled by it. Humans must use technology without forgetting what makes them human — the special and unique things that can't be put into numbers. People need to be in charge of technology, ensuring it helps them, not vice versa. So, in the infosphere, humans should make decisions, not just go along with what technology tells them to do.
- D’Alfonso, S. (Ed.). (n.d.). The infosphere - bibliography. PhilPapers. https://philpapers.org/browse/the-infosphere
- IBM InfoSphere Information Server. IBM. (n.d.-a). https://www.ibm.com/information-server
- Bluemink, M. (2021, March 2). Gilbert Simondon and the process of individuation. Epoché Magazine. https://epochemagazine.org/34/gilbert-simondon-and-the-process-of-individuation/
- SHEPPARD, R. Z. (1971, April 12). Rock Candy. Rock Candy - TIME. https://web.archive.org/web/20081221213325/http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,905004,00.html
- Handy, C. (2015, September 16). The seductions of the infosphere. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2015/07/the-seductions-of-the-infosphere
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