Monday, September 05, 2005

first week's readings


Varian, Hal & Peter Lyman. 2003. How Much Information -- Executive Summary


Nunberg, Geoffrey. 1996. Farewell to the Information Age, in G. Nunberg (ed.)
The Future of the Book
. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. [read to page 21]


Brown, John Seely & Paul Duguid. 2000. "Limits to Information",
Chapter 1 in John Seely Brown & Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press: pp 11-34.




So, here goes the first week's blogging for InfoQual... I think the way I'm going to approach this is to give some thoughts first on each paper alone, and then see if I can thread them together in any sort of coherent way. Forgive me for the rambling nature of all this, please... My head is a confused place, and spilling its contents without a particular goal often gets weird :P

How Much Information?
A few things bothered me about this paper. One major technical question/problem was with what was chosen to be included as information to be counted... Why, for example, is a telephone call information and a discussion at the dinner table not? Direct person-to-person communication is only counted as information in this paper if there is some sort of intermediating technology. The telephone, instant messenger, email, snail mail, etc are all counted as information, and not communication. They do clearly state their choices of media and channels, but the reasoning behind these choices are less clear.
Another troublesome question is of what this all really means. They claim that over 3 years, the amount of 'new stored information grew about 30% a year', but I really don't know that I understand what that means, particularly to me. A more valuable quantity to know, I would think, would be how the amount of information that the average individual deals with regularly has changed. Do I process 30% more information each year? Or do most normal individuals still deal with about as much information? Along with that, I guess, comes the question of the abnormal individual - who's using all the rest of the information? I don't feel like I consume so dramatically much more information now than I ever did before, so what's really going on?

Farewell to the Information Age
I must confess that I had a lot of trouble understanding much of this paper... I think I just don't have the linguistics or philosophy background to get some of it. What I did get of it, though, was interesting. A question occured to me while reading about the distinction between 'intelligence' and 'information,' however. Nunberg asserts that it is a property of the modern conception of information that we, for example, accept something read in the sports section of the newspaper as 'true' without much question, but that such an acceptence would have been absurd for someone a few hundred years ago. It seems like the particular piece of information has a bit to do with this, though. He breaks down the degree of trust to give a newspaper from the 'things that are important to us' to the 'things that are important to them.' I would characterize this continuum differently, though - it seems to go from 'something factual there is no rational reason to lie about' to 'something that people care about enough to lie about'. The same continuum applies in other modes of communication as well. I might ask the guy next to me on the bus who won the game last night, and trust his answer without any knowledge of who he is, his motives, etc, because it's just a bit weird to think of someone lying about something like that. If I make a bet with someone about who will win a game, however, I might not trust them perfectly when they tell me I lost. I suppose the institutionalization of that makes a big difference, though... If I bet with the same person daily, I'd probably stop if they proved untrustworthy. Still, though, I think that there's an interesting idea in there - the amount of skepticism we have about a piece of information is probably very directly related to how much we care about that piece of information.

Limits to Information
Something I found really interesting in this chapter was the discussion of mass-customized goods - and the idea that it would still be the megacorp of your choice providing your individualized stuff. This tied in really neatly to the other two articles for me. In relation to the Varian article, this is a way of turning, for example, one pair of jeans into a million, without increasing the number of jeans that everyone has. It's an information explosion, basically, that has no corresponding overload. This also somewhat illustrates the 'all the news that fits' problem from the Nunberg article - of course I can't read every news article in the universe every day, but I can read my own personalized news feed. This might contain articles which are only interesting to me and a few other people, and would never be in a 'normal' newspaper, but for me are great. Both of these really brought to mind the 'long tail' concept, which if anyone isn't familiar with, I really recommend you read the article.

The Brown/Duguid article really brought out most clearly for me what I see as the theme of the readings, which I read as being a warning about the revolutionary fervor of many internet enthusiasts. The takeaway point of the readings that I saw was basically to view any claims about the internet (or really, anything) 'changing *everything* completely' with a great deal of skepticism, which is probably a good idea :) Much about the world is the same now as it was before the 'information age' began (well, I assume... for me it's been the 'information age' most of my life, so...). And I guess that's about all that I've got in me for the moment. Sorry for the length and confusion of this, but what do folks think, either about my points or about the articles in general?

1 Comments:

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8:44 PM  

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