Information is the Enclosure of Meaning

This essay carefully reviews and further develops some overlooked theories of information, grounding them in a more general theory of meaning. And it argues that information is best understood as the enclosure of meaning: an attempt to render a highly messy and stereotypically human process relatively formal, quantifiable, and context-independent. It highlights the ideas of Donald MacKay in relation to those of Claude Shannon, and it foregrounds the semiotic framework of Charles Sanders Peirce in relation to cybernetics (and the then-incipient discipline of computer science). It shows how Katherine Hayles and Mark Hansen, two influential theorists of new media, misread MacKay in their attempt to put the 'human' (as well as affect, meaning, the body, and so forth) back into a theory of information. And it thereby shows that the framework these theorists seek was, in some sense, already well developed before cybernetics even entered the scene. It offers two alternative definitions of information, one focusing on interaction (individuals and practices) and the other focusing on institutions (collectivities and structures), that effectively mediate between relatively quantitative theories of information and relatively qualitative theories of meaning.