The acquisition, recording, organization, retrieval, display, and dissemination of information is known as information processing and, in recent years, this term has often been applied to computer-based operations.
In popular usage, the term information refers to facts and opinions provided and received during the course of daily life: one obtains information directly from other living beings, from mass media, from electronic data banks, and from all sorts of observable phenomena in the surrounding environment.
A person using such facts and opinions generates more information, some of which is communicated to others during discourse, by instructions, in letters and documents, and through other media. Information organized according to some logical relationships is referred to as a body of knowledge, to be acquired by systematic exposure or study.
Application of knowledge (or skills) yields expertise, and additional analytic or experiential insights are said to constitute instances of wisdom. Use of the term information is not restricted exclusively to its communication via natural language. Information is also registered and communicated through art and by facial expressions and gestures or by such other physical responses as shivering.
Moreover, every living entity is endowed with information in the form of a genetic code. These information phenomena permeate the physical and mental world, and their variety is such that it has defied so far all attempts at a unified definition of information.
Interest in information phenomena increased dramatically in the 20th century, and today they are the objects of study in a number of disciplines, including philosophy, physics, biology, linguistics, information and computer science, electronic and communications engineering, management science, and the social sciences.
On the commercial side, the information service industry has become one of the newer industries worldwide. Almost all other industries—manufacturing and service—are increasingly concerned with information and its handling. The different, though often overlapping, viewpoints and phenomena of these fields lead to different (and sometimes conflicting) concepts and “definitions” of information.
In the late 20th century, information acquired two major utilitarian connotations. On the one hand, it is considered an economic resource, somewhat on par with other resources such as labour, material, and capital. This view stems from evidence that the possession, manipulation, and use of information can increase the cost-effectiveness of many physical and cognitive processes. The rise in information-processing activities in industrial manufacturing as well as in human problem solving has been remarkable.
Analysis of one of the three traditional divisions of the economy, namely the service sector, shows a sharp increase in information-intensive activities since the beginning of the 20th century, giving rise to the so-called information society.
The second perception of information is that it is an economic commodity, which helps to stimulate the worldwide growth of a new segment of national economies—the information service sector. Taking advantage of the properties of information and building on its individual and societal utility and value, this sector provides a broad range of information products and services.