Text message as information

This week’s reading helps us better understand information and its transformation system. Simplifying the process of information transmission, Shannon’s model of information system opens the black box of our communication devices. Digitalization makes texting the most common, convenient and the simplest way of transforming information.

By saying texting, we usually refer to SMS texting, which is sent over a cellular network. Our cell phones are always sending and receiving signals back and forth with a cell phone tower or control channel, even when they are at rest. When text message is typed, it is encoded by code books as bytes and transmitted in data packets, which is the signal the cell phone sent. The signal first arrives at the control channel, the medium that can transmit the signal, then it is stored at the short message service center, or to be sent immediately when the receiver is available. The receiver decodes the data packets, to be more specific, the software translates the signal into information that the user could understand.

By understanding the meaning of the text message, and forming the reply, we know that it is being successfully transmitted and received as information. According to GDI, the reason we can understand the Information transmitted by the text is because it is made of well- formed data, both in the syntax level and semantic level. The syntax of the language is its grammatical rules, which renders the meanings of the information, the semantic level of information. According to Professor Irvine, “meanings are enacted by cognitive agents who use collectively understand material sign structures in living contexts of interpretation and understanding”. Language is a kind of sign that has conventions and a set of man-made rules behind. What we text serves as symbols of meaning. People recognize the pattern, and thus understand the meaning expressed by the signs.

Shannon’s approximation theory of the language indicates that certain pattern of the structure of language made us recognize the pattern. An English speaker can recognize the letters, words, and thus, sentences. However, if the information source is Chinese, and the receiver knows nothing about Chinese, he may recognize such text only by their physical properties, but not by their meanings. Since Chinese is not in their knowledge system. In this case, the transmission of information is not successful, because the receiver cannot recognize the pattern of the information from the sender.

I also come up with a question: Is there any standard of measuring how successful information is transmitted?


Martin Irvine, Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information

Luciano Floridi, Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010. Read Chapters 1-4. Excerpts.

James Gleick, Excerpts from The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. (New York, NY: Pantheon, 2011).

Peter Denning and Tim Bell, “The Information Paradox.” From American Scientist, 100, Nov-Dec. 2012.