Communication & Information – Norbert Wiener’s Paradox

“…We cannot afford to ignore Norbert Wiener’s observation of a paradox that results from our increasing technological capability in electronic communication: as the number of messages increases, the amount of information carried decreases. We have more media to communicate fewer significant ideas.”

FROM: Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner. (1969). Teaching As a Subversive Activity. — page 8


This quote was from 1969, and was citing Norbert Wiener, who died in 1964, but I suspect he was discussing this paradox in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. I wonder what Wiener would think about our current state of affairs? He’d have to talk about miscommunication, false information, and so much more as part of the communication circuits, as well.

The implications of the increase in the amount of information (both factual and not), the increase of triviality and nonsense within that information, and the increase in propaganda along with the ease with which communication can now occur are frightening. Yes, it is nice to have easy access to information, but it requires ways of sorting out the trash from the significant. How do we know what is really trash, what is really significant? How much do we have to dig through before we get to the significant? How much time will we have to spend getting to worthy information? On another line of questions, some people may find messages of hate and distrust valuable. So, what are the implications for divisiveness among people from local communities to the global population? How can we work towards bringing people together, promoting understanding and appreciation of difference, and so forth?

There are so many issues and questions that cross all aspects of living … and ultimately our survival as a species. Wiener’s paradox and all of the questions it brings up affects everything from our personal psychological wellness to global politics, from our effect on ecosystems to our effect on societies. It affects education, spirituality, economics, politics, and global affairs. It is a monster like nothing that has ever been experienced.

About Jeff Bloom

I'm a Researcher with and am on the Advisory Board of the International Bateson Institute and am a professor emeritus with the Department of Teaching & Learning, College of Education, Northern Arizona University.
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