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Knowing and Not Telling: Information Classification

If a piece of information exists, everyone (given the needed abilities) can be aware of it and assist in its further dissemination. In some sense, we are all educators and each tidbit of knowledge is less a possession and more a piece of data with which to function in society. Beyond financial measures, what better way to evaluate the value of an individual than by his or her contribution to the knowledge of society? Likewise, we can evaluate a society on this basis: how well does the society create an environment where information can be gathered and spread? How well does the society establish the foundation for this sharing to exist? These are critical questions and valuable insights when considering quality of life.

Despite the “universal access” to information which comes from the ability to communicate certain artificial boundaries are used to limit the spread of knowledge. Not all knowledge is created equal. Certain forms of information are too intimate for public consumption. We classify information according to different levels according to personal needs. When certain people need to know information they are provided with access though these same individuals may be secluded from other pieces of information deemed beyond their “need to know.” One certainly doesn’t share personal details of home life with professional colleagues or details of the workplace with casual acquaintances in the grocery aisle.

Certain professions depend on this classification of information to function effectively. The military utilizes classification to control secrets and maintain security. In some sense all professions protect information, though the forms and depth of detail vary. At the highest form of classification there are technical details at stake: ingredient combinations, manufacturing processes and market data are common high-level information protected. At lower corporate levels the classification of data becomes more personal as individual employees protect their ideas and knowledge gained from experience from other who employees who could poise a threat. In a toxic environment there is no sharing and information that drastically improves efficiency becomes sacred data for employees under pressure.

At its core, information is an objective entity. The facts and figures that make up data are cold and emotionless, though, as with all items reaching human brains, tainted with subjective classification. Information’s social life begins when humans take possession of information and distort the existence of data for personal or corporate gain. The “need to know” is a means by which data is classified and certain people are granted the rights to knowledge. Though all things can be known, there are some who function to control what we know and those whose knowledge of our lack of knowledge classifies us in numerous ways. In society there are those whose “need to know” leaves them utterly in darkness and yet blissfully unaware of their status.


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