Spatial Semiotics: Toward a economic geography of information

Date:

Presented on the Digtial Labor panel during the Annual Meeting of the AAG on theoretical work I have been conducting on semiotics, indexicality and indexical infrastructure. This talk forgrounded the spatial characteristics of information.

Abstract

While dominant imaginaries of the digital celebrate information’s immateriality, critical researchers in information studies, media studies, and geography have demonstrated information’s materiality. But the refrain that “materiality matters” does little to explain the unique semiotic affordances that information does have. Information can be copied, aggregated, and reused in ways that defy previous logics of accumulation. Information economics textbooks still define information goods as non-excludable and non-rivalrous-in-use with a low marginal cost of production, despite the proliferation of monopolistic platforms, assetized data, and energy intensive datacenters. This impasse can be explained if we adopt the premise that information occupies at least two semiotic dimensions: the indexical and the diagrammatic. Indexicality grounds information materially, as the circuit through which information becomes about something else. Diagrammaticity is the internal structure or pattern of information that affords information the possibility of being abstracted and remediated. Without an understanding of the multiple dimensions of information, theories of the role of information in digital platforms, industrial agglomerations, communication networks, and globalized financial marketplaces produce contradictory paradigms that fail to model the spatial dynamics of information economies. The relational space occupied by indexes and the relative space engendered by diagrams implicate opposed geographies of information which, when combined, enable the production of complex but traceable infrastructures that span and scale space. By tracing the material semiotic affordances of indexicality and diagrammaticity through a range of digital infrastructures—from microchips to marketplaces—I demonstrate how the spatialities specific to these dimensions of information constrain the conditions under which information can be valued as information, and thereby shape the information economy.

Keywords

Information, Semiotics, Space, Index, Icon, Economics