Werner Reiterer


Much of the history of humankind is a history of the temporal and local shifting and preservation of information. The significant development of society began only through the development of suitable tools that ensured information transfer across different generations and different countries.

The most important instrument of this advance was writing, which was first used in the Orient, specifically among the Sumerians 3,500 years before our era, in the form of cuneiform script on clay tablets. We should also mention Egyptian hieroglyphs and Asian characters, especially the Chinese ideographs, whose development research dates to the same time and sometimes even earlier. With these cultural tools, human beings could preserve knowledge and information, and much later collect it in ‘analogue brains’. We call these shunting stations of information ‘libraries’.

But what role does the information still stored on material data carriers and in the intangible information languages that have developed since the end of the nineteenth century (Morse code, binary code) play in contemporary society? How do writing and all kinds of intangible information codes affect our thinking, and how important is information in the economy of the incipient twenty-first century?

This volatile substance invisibly pervades each and every area of our lives, digitally controls all vital infrastructures, promises huge increases in the efficiency of production processes when properly networked, renders us calculable in our

behaviour and nature, and sometimes even predicts our future. And because human beings themselves resemble bodies stuffed with individual information, they are increasingly at risk of being hacked.The information retailers‚ preferred tools for jimmying this treasure chest come disguised as helpers, without whose use life in the post-industrial era would be almost impossible. We call these ‘helpers’ cell phones, computers, credit cards …

It is only through the development of large com- puters that it has become possible to network gigantic amounts of information across various sectors and thus for one society to generate an information advantage over others. For the addition of information plus information does not necessarily result in only twice as much information; it can generate multiples of information. The increasing digitisation of all areas of life is the symptom of this development: big data. One result is the increasing monetising of information: it becomes a product that has a price tag and can be traded all over the world. For example, petroleum was the eco-nomically most important raw material of the twentieth century, but in post-industrial countries the trade in information has now taken its place. Information is the oil of the twenty-first century!