Language, Space and Information
Richard Coyne
This chapter illustrates the diversity and incompatibility of different concepts
of information technology and space. I survey the connections between
information technology and space with an understanding of four dominant
contemporary schools of philosophy and language. These are systems theory,
pragmatism, critical theory and deconstruction. Here I aim to show what is
at stake in adopting each of them, and I hope to advance the discussion of
the spatial implications of information technology by presenting these
positions in an ordered way. Elsewhere, I elaborate upon the implications of
these positions for the design and use of computer systems (Coyne, 1995).
In systems theory, information and space are linked primarily through
the notion of the logical proposition. There is an ideal or essential language
behind natural language which is expressible through the proposition.
Propositions are a sentence's information content. Information underlies
language, but also other phenomena such as space. I show how the systems
theoretical view presents space as being transcended by information, in that
electronic communications overcome the constraints of space, and the
essential informational component of space (primarily measurement along a
coordinate system) is presented as able to be represented and manipulated in
CAD and virtual reality systems. By contrast, pragmatism presents a different
view of language in which the holistic realm of situated context takes
precedence over the proposition. Logical propositions are not what underlie
a sentence but they are tools to be used and understood in particular
interpretive and practical contexts. Also, coordinate systems do not provide
access to the essential nature of space but are practical constructs placed
against other aspects of our experience of space. I relate Martin Heidegger's
(1962) account of "being-in-the-world" as a demonstration of the primacy
of practical space. As an elaboration of the pragmatic view of language and
space, the critical theory school identifies the way in which concepts of
language based around the proposition conceal and promote a pernicious
technological thinking that instills social inequalities. So, too, orthodox
concepts of space partition space in ways that reinforce and promote
structures of domination. Certain critical theorists suggest that space is
always socially constructed and that we need to recognize this in order to
free ourselves from these structures. Finally, Derrida's radical deconstructive
strategy (1976) further unsettles the propositional basis of language (and other
orthodoxies), and also shows how the conquest of space normally associated
with writing (and by inference print and electronic communications) has
always been present in language. By implication, there is nothing transcendent
about electronic communications. Derrida also sees space as social and resists
any attempt to disclose its essence as information. Each of these positions is
outlined in detail in this chapter.
Systematic Space
What is information? The concept of information features prominently
among systems theorists, cognitive scientists and some analytical philosophers.
A survey of the field is provided by Fox (1983), who also outlines the
problems of information from the point of view of systems theory. Fox takes
the ordinary language usage of 'information' as his starting point. The view
of information developed by the systems theorists Shannon and Weaver
(1971) is that there are sentences and these yield information content.
Information is placed into sentences by the person writing or speaking
those sentences, and information is conveyed by the sentences as they are
transported around in books, conveyed through the air as sounds or passed
through electronic networks. The information is then unpacked from the
sentences by someone reading, hearing or otherwise interpreting the sentences.
According to this view, sentences have 'information content'. This view
of information trades in the metaphor of containment (information is to
sentences as water is to a vessel) and the metaphor of the conduit (information
is passed through channels from a transmitter to a receiver).
According to Fox, information is a less mysterious concept if seen simply
in terms of the 'proposition'. What is a proposition? According to the early

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