Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies

Cesar A. Hidalgo
256
January 31, 2016
★★★★ (+0.50%) 🛈

This is an enormously conceptual book, and is more about economics than information.

The author makes the claim that the functionality and ordering of atoms (?) in physical products is information, and this grows with economies. A computer is only worth more than the plastic and chemicals its made out of because of the order in which it was assembled, and that order is information (or “crystallized imagination”). Thus, we don’t export products at all – we export information.

Information grows in response to networks. We combine our information with the information of other people, other companies, and other countries to create more complex information. He calls the amount of knowledge we can cram into a single person as a “personbyte” and the amount we can cram into a single company as a “firmbyte.” To exceed these limits, we have to create networked connections between people and companies.

The book is easy to read, but hard to follow. I found myself breezing through chapters, egged on my the author’s light writing style, but then getting to the end of a chapter and thinking, “Wait...what?” You’d almost have to read it twice.

The book proposes and builds on a topic that stayed on the outskirts of my understanding. At any given time, I had a vague idea of what the author was discussing, but my understanding was never crystal clear. Despite that, I enjoyed the ideas presented. They were mind-expanding, and encouraged me to think about information in a way that I hadn’t before.

Also of note – the acknowledgements are wonderful. Rather than just a dry recitation of names, the author discusses the process of writing the book. As a writer myself (Deane Barker), I loved the process he detailed.

Overall, a good book. Not one I claim to completely understand, but it challenged me and I’m better for having read it.

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