[Air-L] "information behavior" and "swarm behavior"

Jonathan Marshall Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au
Mon Aug 20 16:58:05 PDT 2012

Personally I think one of the important ways of looking at information ecology in our world is to have some focus on maladaptive information behaviour, which leads to dis-intigation and paranoia; what i call the 'information mess'. Some of this arises from natural human inccomunicability, and some from features of the information society, as the ecology of information society encourages the spread of misinformation and maladaption.  I'm part of a team authoring a book about this due from routledge next year.


Without going into arguments about the instability of social and linguistic categories (which is important), my current, but clearly incomplete, list of Information Mess Principles (IMPs) (not likely to be in the book in this format) is as follows (with some acknowledgements):

(Not every point is claimed to be equally important, or follows logically from proceeding points).

1) Communication and information are entangled with noise, misunderstanding and deception. No noise, no communication.

2) All human ‘messages’, as much as they aim at producing some kind of response in others, are political and couched within power relations (Morse Peckham).

3) Communication acts to indicate and maintain membership in a group, to indicate lack of membership in other (generally despised) groups, and to place opponents in such despised groups. The more receivers are persuaded that the emitter, is an *exemplar* of their group, the more persuasive the message becomes (Steve Reicher and Nick Hopkins). [Social categories are constantly fluid, under construction and challenge. Formalising social categories takes a degree of violence or threat, and a degree of lack of responsivity to change.]

4) Hierarchy, and strong group borders, break up information flow. Those near the top of a punitive hierarchy are likely to be ignorant. This expresses the power/ignorance nexus (David Graeber).

5) People tend to judge, assimilate, or distort, new information by what they already ‘know’. Systems of knowledge disrupt the ability to process new information.
6) The 'model' tends to either be taken for ‘reality’, or reality has to be made to conform to the model. In the latter case, this often involves power relations and violence. The more the model has had previous success in solving problems, the more this reinforces its impermeability to changed circumstances. This also reinforces the previous point.

7) The easier it is to create information, the more information will be created. This leads to Data Smog, in which it is difficult to find correct, accurate or relevant data (David Shenk).  [One way for people to negotiate Data Smog is to retrospectively doubt everything, so if they find the data is untrue, they can say they never really believed it anyway, but still keep the alliances and identifications with the groups that emitted the bad data. Bad data becomes classed as unimportant, it is not a falsification of what people think is generally good data.]

8) Ease of communication increases disruption and conflicts. It brings together people who formerly did not communicate, and enables them to find our how different and incompatible they are. Similarly, if the groups do not take the time or work to understand each other then they are likely to separate even further. Communication can increase distance.

9) Information engenders further information and effects, but not necessarily the information or effects intended.  Information escapes and escapes its ‘purpose’.

10) New systems of information transmission, or structures of communication, change social boundaries (such as the divisions between public and private, Joshua Meyrowitz). They can also change social organisation, distribution of command, modes of working, capabilities of work, modes of appropriation and distribution of ideas, and change who speaks to who and in what kind of manner. If distribution of power results, this can lead to confusion and avoidance of responsibility. Hence new communications systems can produce cascading disruptions, and intensifications of attempts to maintain power relations and organisation structures.

11) When people are allowed to do more of something through ICT, then it can be the case that actions escalate out of control, and that existing system dampners that have produced equilibrium no longer work. As things become more efficient, they also tend to become more brittle.

12) Restriction of information is a tool for competitive advancement. For example, in a functioning capitalist economy good information about the economy or about economic acts, becomes restricted as part of the dynamics of that economy. 

13) Information has to be restricted, contained and fenced off to become profitable. Together with the previous point this means that good information of import diminishes.

14) In information society, information is easily replicable and hard to confine. This conflicts with restriction.

15) The value of information depends upon, or is enhanced by, its source.  Fighting over the valuation of sources is fundamental to politics and understanding. Hence the attacks on 'science', and by scientists on other sources of information. Uncertainty can also be strategically useful to some people.

16) The value of information, under information capitalism, is determined by money and the value of money is determined by information. 

17) The information economy is not self-subsistent, but is parasitic on other economies which it attacks, thus undermining itself. Information society theory tends to be disembodied.

18) In information capitalism bad information drives out good. This is a ‘Gresham's law’ of information. People horde good information, and tend to circulate information which they think will an intended effect rather than for its accuracy. The more things are hidden, and the more is emitted, the more that everything becomes obscured.


From: air-l-bounces at listserv.aoir.org [air-l-bounces at listserv.aoir.org] On Behalf Of Cristian Berrio Zapata [cristian.berrio at gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, 20 August 2012 10:29 PM
To: AOIR list; ciresearchers at vancouvercommunity.net
Subject: [Air-L] "information behavior" and "swarm behavior"

Dear Colleagues:

I am studying the topic of "information behavior" and looking for authors
with an ecology perspective about information. It can be from ethology or
ecology, what interests me is a systems vision that integrates seeking
behavior, testing, processing and storage functions with adaptive skills of
the human species.

Until now, I have only sources from social science, that very timidly
suggested some evolutionary approach.

I also interested in what has been called "swarm behavior" regarding
information behavior.

Thanks and regards

*Cristian Berrío Zapata*
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