Sunday, August 22, 2004

Information Bias

I've had a few thoughts on the notion of technology and documents. The social informatics and CSCW work seems to clearly position technology as a factor in modern practice. Technology is not a static thing but the process of designing and implementing technology also has a sort of performative effect that does far beyond the intended or designed effect.

In some studies of technology there is a pretty clear bias of technological determinism i.e., the technology appears in the system and has a specific effect. We may see this bias in studies with titles such as the "the impact of the Internet". This example repeats the "thing" bias so rigorously attacked in LIS discourse. Just as Dervin attacked the hypodermic needle model of media and our conceptualizations of information as brick, we should rebel against technological determinism.

Perhaps one reason for our blindness to technological determinism comes from the technololgy we are most familiar with: books in a library setting. The library setting is a key part of this argument. We recognize the complicated relationships individuals have with books as they negotiate identity and meaning, but much of this discussion becomes obfuscated when books get reduced to elements of a collections ruled by the tyranny of classification systems, and when individuals are homogenized into "patrons".

To fully mutilate Dervin's metapore, I will invoke the image of dropping bricks into a pond. When those bricks are "information" and the pond is "society" we fully recognize the import of the resulting ripples and waves. When the bricks are "books" and the pond is a "library", the bricks enter the water without a splash or ripple and gracefully descend to their predistined spot indifferent to the swirling torrents of the pond.


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