The CONSEQUENTIALIST View of Information

Most of what I’m writing about under the banner “sociology of information” focuses on the relational and symbolic value of information and information transition in distinction to its instrumental, consequential, or material value. For the latter, the “value” of information derives from the benefits one can acquire (or costs one can avoid) by having the information. Analytically, that’s to distinguish what I’m doing from information economics — my basic point is that there is a component of human information behavior that can’t be reduced to material consequences without a loss of explanatory power.

An example of the instrumental value of information showed up in the paper today (NYT “A Mistaken News Report Hurts United“); apparently, a false news flash that United Airlines had filed again for bankruptcy sent it’s stock price tumbling.

This is the instrumentalist or consequentialist side of information because the value comes in the form “if I had known it was false I would not have sold my stock” or “if I had known then I could have made a killing.” We think of the import of the information here in terms of what we could have done differently had we known. Contrast this with the “Madmen” character Betty pointing out to her husband that she expected to be called about his accident whether or not she could do anything about it because that’s the kind of information that spouses share with one another immediately.

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: