Asymptoting towards zero…

September 18, 2007

Nearly ten years ago Hal Varian wrote a paper called Markets for Information Goods. It’s none too elegantly expressed, but it has what you might call “profound” implications:

I would like to coin a “Malthus’s law” of information. Recall that Malthus noted that number of stomaches grew geometrically but the amount of food grew linearly. Pool (1984)* noted that the supply of information (in virtually every medium) grows exponentionally whereas the amount that is consumed grows at best linearly. This is ultimately due to the fact that our mental powers and time available to process information is constrained. This has the uncomfortable consequence that the fraction of the information produced that is actually consumed is asymptoting towards zero.

*Ithiel De Sola Pool, Hiroshi Inose, Nozomu Takasaki, Roger Hurwitz. Communications flows: a census in the United States and Japan. Elsevier Science, New York, 1984.

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