Thursday, October 14, 2010

What is Information Worth?

And so it begins.  You know what I'm talking about.  It's time for the MPR Pledge Drive.  When I'm driving, I pretty exclusively tune in to Minnesota Public Radio.  Mostly the news station, but sometimes I listen to music on The Current.  At work, I split my time 50/50 between streaming MPR News or streaming KFAN depending on my mood at the moment.  Well, I'm on an MPR kick right now.  And for those of you who don't know, it basically means that I am forced to listen to their DJ's beg for money for the next week. So I'm sitting in the drive-thru at Wendy's today getting ready for some Jr. Bacon goodness, tuned in to 91.1 listening to those poor souls drone on and on and on.  They even break into programming just to remind you that the pledge drive is on going, and you should definitely become a sustaining member. And they started to get to me.  I started thinking, "I listen to this ALL THE TIME.  I should think about becoming a member." 

I get all sorts of information from MPR, but should I have to pay for it?  How much is the information that I get from MPR worth?  I get entertainment from MPR too.  How do I put a dollar value on that?  Furthermore, I give to other charities as well.  Mostly through kiva.org, but also the National MS Society.  Should I be thinking about upping my contribution to one of these foundations instead of donating to MPR?  Surely Kiva and the MS Society are less selfish endeavors, no?  And if I don't give to MPR, Morning Edition is still going to be on when I drive to work every day, but there is no guarantee that Jocelyn Alvarado in The Philippines would have gotten her loan without the Kiva Project.

So what is information worth?  It's a tough question to answer.  I found a synopsis from a study on that very question on The Journal of Information Science website.  Two things jumped out at me.  The first was this sentence:  "Economists consider information a paradoxical good of uncertain value."  Basically, you can't put a dollar value on it.  The second was the study's conclusion which states, "The findings of the study show that under all conditions subjects underestimate the value of information both absolutely and relatively in comparison to material goods." And concludes with, "The participants' justifications of their own valuations are heuristics which seem to take into account the uncertain character of informational goods." Basically, information can always be had cheaply since humans are materialistic to a fault, and also because it's value is based on personal experience and intuitive judgement which is by nature different for everyone.

I'm going to take this to the extreme and say that you should almost never pay for information.  Especially if you consider my last post where I talked about the plethora of information we have no choice but to trudge through.  The only difference between my selfish desire for good programming on the radio vs. my selfish desire for that warm fuzzy feeling that helping someone in need gives you dilemma, and the aforementioned study is that my selfish desires are not material.  But that's not important.  What's important is the premise that you should almost never pay for information.  So MPR will have to go on without Matt Swanson as a contributor, but I'm still going to listen.  And based on my premise, I'm not going to feel bad about it.

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