Thursday, February 19, 2015

Heidegger on Information

I'm not a philosopher nor have I read Heidegger in the original German. So what do I really know?

I know that he has provided us with some fancy thought models to apply to information use and governance.

First off, what is information? It is something that leads to us being informed (i.e., having a different state of mind post exposure than we had pre). We also know that it is a non-rivalrous good that is subject to decay in transmission and interpretation.

But what do we do with it? Here is where Heidegger comes in.

Heidegger famously wrote about our state of being and its relationship with the world around us including our tools. We can think of a carpenter sitting in his workshop with his gleaming tools and raw materials waiting to be turned into something. In Heideggerian terms, this stuff is "present-to-hand" -- we can observe it rationally and it exists external to what we are doing. When the carpenter is engaged in a project, select stuff becomes "ready-to-hand" -- it is part of the carpenter engaged in the activity of doing something. For example, it is a fundamental part of the activity of building a chiffarobe (not that I know what a chiffarobe is but Harper Lee just published a new book).

The challenge occurs when that stuff which is "ready-to-hand" becomes "undready-to-hand". For example, the hammer breaks or perhaps the tool is woefully unsuited to the task (e.g., driving a screw with the hammer). The stuff refers to being "present-to-hand" and generates new tasks, etc.

We manage our information is if it were "present-to-hand". We have an idea of gleaming columns of perfectly preserved information. Unfortunately, this apriori and ad-hoc organization of information doesn't necessarily match the ever-changing needs of our users. In essence, it becomes "unready-to-hand."

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