I was re-reading Michael K. Buckland’s “Information as Thing” and I realized that this should be added to my essential reading list. So, if you are interested in the philosophy of information, please check this article out.
Buckland, Michael K. “Information as Thing.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science 42, no. 5 (1991): 351-360.
Buckland identifies three distinct approaches to the definition of information: as process, as knowledge, and as thing. He goes on to argue that the information-as-thing approach is the “only form of information with which information systems can deal directly” (p. 359). This is an attributive sense of information such that information becomes a particular sort of data: meaningful data. Moreover, he argues, we should not be confused by text, documents, sounds, images, etc.. These are all equivalent to data and their position as information is determined by their ability to inform. I like this. In particular, I like Buckland’s description of information-as-thing as similar to the way evidence is a thing: it’s a thing “from which one becomes informed” (p. 353). As information professionals, librarians can learn from the information-as-thing approach because it allows us to treat information with the sort of objective neutrality demanded by our professional standards. That is, it allows a systems-based approach to working with information in a way that knowledge and process information theories do not allow.
As a word of warning, it seems as though he is committed to an entirely physicalist approach to information: informative data are necessarily physical objects; information is supervenient on the physical.1 This is fine if you’re a physicalist, but not everyone is. In any event, it’s a great paper that foreshadows most of the current work in philosophy of information.
1 It isn’t clear whether Buckland is advocating a straight-up reductive physicalism or some sort of emergentism for information. Maybe it’s clearer in a later paper?