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Inform: tell me something

New Interpretation

inform = to give form to, to animate or give life to, to impart
Definition: Things that inform us, educate us, we can learn from
Alternatively, things that support us being informed. For example, information technology does not inform us in itself and through its use information is generated

Key Challenges and Issues

Since each of the seven principles is a new technological focus it produces its own set of challenges and creates a unique set of social issues. Here we discuss the key challenges and issues for 'inform'.


Traditionally, the old corner store was run by the owner who over time became like a best friend. He typically greeted you as you walked in and because he knew what your buying preferences were he was able to point you to the special offers. That was literally service with a smile and mostly it was appreciated.

After World War II, the emergence of mass market selling in the form of department stores and supermarkets took over as the preferred way to shop. We wandered around the store casually picking and choosing the things we wanted from the ever increasing range of goods on display. The intimacy of the shopping experience did change and instead of the shopkeeper suggesting what we would buy, we allowed the advertisers to entice us with their specials.

Then along came bar codes and the scanning of goods to speed us through the checkouts. Then with the addition of credit cards, EFTPOS and ATMs, strangely enough, the issue of privacy began to surface.

Scanning enabled instant stocktakes to be taken by electronically recording every item that was sold and this was one of the major reasons supermarkets adopted this system. However, when this information was directly linked to you via your plastic card, an analysis of what you bought was possible and suddenly the shadow of Big Brother loomed.

Essentially now the supermarket and your bank knew what the shopkeeper in the corner store knew about you, but for some reason this was different.

The privacy issue is fundamentally this: you know something about me that I don’t want you to know.

It was okay that the shopkeeper knew my buying habits because I knew who he was and I trusted him. It is not okay that a faceless corporation knew this too because I didn’t know who they were and more importantly, I didn’t know what they were going to do with my information.

Essentially, privacy is an information access issue. Computer hacking is a related activity – ‘You know something that I want to know about’.

Interestingly, privacy is also a recent phenomenon that was created during the Industrial Revolution. Prior to this, many families shared the same bed which gives little space for personal privacy. Similarly, going to the toilet, meant using the chamber pot in the corner of your room. Separate rooms for sleeping in and the toilet cubicle did not emerge until the 17th century.

If we take a step back further to the oral cultures of tribal or ancient times, there was no concept of self let alone having anything private to hide. What was mine was yours and vice versa. What you knew about me, everyone else did too.

Equally significant, what was known about other people was considered ‘local knowledge’ given their were no celebrities or global media as we know them today.

Today, knowing things is big business and hiding what we don’t want others to know is part of the game and an important challenge within the ‘inform’ principle.


One of the fundamental tenets of science has been the public sharing of ideas and information. Having your research results published has been a crucial element of stimulating debate and laying claim to scientific discovery.

In the past few decades, this practice has been tested as more scientific research is being undertaken within corporate structures rather than the publicly owned university system.

Perhaps the highest profile example has been around attempts to ‘own’ the intellectual property of the Human Genome. Should this be public knowledge or is it acceptable for it to be owned by someone?

Similarly, the spectacular adoption rate of Microsoft products driving the vast majority of the world’s personal computers raises the same question – Is it okay for someone to own something that is so fundamental to our lives?

The principle of ‘inform’ reflects the shift from owning land or physical capital as the primary means to generating wealth, to creating ideas and managing information.

Intellectual Property is one of fastest growing areas in law today and it centres on the claiming of ownership of ideas and information.

One of the key aspects in this shift in ownership is a change in the fundamental economic equation. Typically, when you own physical goods you make your money by selling them to be consumed by other people. The key word here is ‘consume’. When we switch to information, it cannot be consumed in the same way. For example, food is bought and literally consumed, you eat it and it is gone. With information, you can use it ongoingly and it doesn’t run out, it simply becomes outdated. In other words, you can have your cake and eat it as well, in much the way that you can re-read a book or watch a DVD many times.

The Dotcom boom and the subsequent bust shows the potentially explosive nature of this shift. The boom was created out of a recognition that the economic equation had shifted but not in terms of on the ground results. The bubble burst because the lack of results eventually caught up with the hype. That is not to say the results will not come, simply that too many people expected too much too soon.

Ironically, one of the basic elements of earning income from information is not to sell it outright but to rent it to others. Since information cannot be consumed, the key to business success is to package it so others can use it but not own it.


It has been suggested there was more information on the world wide web in the year 2000 than was known by the entire population of the planet in 1900. Similarly, the typical weekend newspaper contains more information than a person living in the Middle Ages encountered in a lifetime.

We are living in an age where we are surrounded by information. It is not simply television, newspapers, radio and the internet, it is also street signage and advertising signage that has increased dramatically.

In the same way that a machine for making cars makes cars, the purpose of information technology is to produce information but that is where the comparison ends. Car making machines were specialized and only made cars. Different machines made different cars, or different toothbrushes or different whatevers. All information technology makes more information. But wait, there’s more.

Whilst we all own motor cars we don’t all own the machine to make more of them, but with personal computers we all own machines that make more information. Add to this, information not only cannot be consumed, when we combine separate strands of information we create even more information.

The problem is no longer creating information it is making sense of what we have. When we can’t make sense of all the information that is bombarding us, it is termed ‘information overload’.

The significance of search engines on the internet is central to this issue. With several million websites in cyberspace, how are we to find what we are looking for? Better yet, how can we rely on what we do find? Is it current? Is it accurate? Is it useful?

One of the fundamental opportunities of the ‘inform’ principle is to provide the knowledge and expertise that customers want, when they want it and in the easiest form for them to apply it. The focus is no longer to produce quantity it is now on the timely and useful delivery of quality information.

Product Examples

Yahoo! = search engine website that helps you find things
Big Brother = reality television show whereby a context is created for collecting information that is edited into a television show
House and Garden = television show that is a mix of both entertainment and information
Omo Referral Line = call centre for enquiries in how to make your clothes cleaner, (similar to the RACV roadside service without the cars!)
Download 'Every New Thing 2.0' (pdf 38kb)
Read 'Every New Product' (Version 1.2)


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