What is the place that information holds in classical theories of knowledge?

Is it a place assigned by an empiricist account of knowledge?

To be researched…


Tom Wilson’s article makes a time travel covering 1959 – 2009 information research dividing it in 4 periods:  1) The prehistoric Era, 2) 1959 -1979, 3) 1980 to the Present and 4) Into the Future.

It sounds a bit like history, doesn’t it? So it is.

The first question we would need to answer looking at this periodization would be: why is 1959 the watershed that drives away the Prehistoric Era? Wilson’s view does not comply with a technological reductionism. Although technology is certainly a driver of research, the historical roots of Information Research are prior to the technological push (it would be hasty though tempting to make the analogy between writing/technology).

So, in the pre-historic era there were two main drivers for information research: public support and funding for libraries (community) ; World War II (science and the information explosion); The community pull and the science pull. This historical hermeneutics gives us a quite enlarged view of the roots and by the same token an enlarged view of the possibilities.

1959 was the year of the International Conference on Scientific Information:  user studies and academic librarianship became core areas of research. Information research is often understood by Wilson as Information behaviour Research. Is this an abusive synonymy or maybe, a political one (in the sense of discoursive power)? This second period of information research was the era of quantitative and  large scale studies. Wilson refers to INFROSS (INFormation Requirements Of the Social Sciences) which began in 1967 and was published in 1971 and INISS (Information Needs and Uses in Social Services Departments)  that took place between 1975 and  1980 and implemented a original mix-method combining quantitative and qualitative data. At this point Wilson becomes an actor of this history. His experience with INISS and writing the report  A Week in the Life of a Social Services Department, led him to propose that qualitative methods should be adopted in research into what he proposed should be called “information seeking behavior.

From 1980 to the present, Wilson argues, typifying the main trends of the field is more difficult. There is no statistical evidence that information behaviour is now the dominant theme in information research but the success of ISIC doctoral workshops and SIG/USE attendances are qualitative indicators of this trend. Another feature of research in the field for the past 20 years is a common concern to establish theoretical and conceptual frameworks for the subject. Qualitative methods have became the norm through in-depth investigations of small samples of people. On the other hand  large-scale survey data have declined and “as a result, there is little evidence of the impact of research on either policy or practice.” Finally technology (ITC) became an important driver of research, namely with increasing internet related investigation.

In the future, says Wilson “technological developments of one kind or another will continue to drive research”, but the previous enlarged view of the roots of the field opens up research areas beyond technology, mainly related to economy. Wilson points out to the Digital divide and  “The impact of “information lack” on the disadvantaged in society and, particularly, its economic effects will become of interest to researchers.” and to the phenomenon of Economic migration : “Exploring how the migrant discovers how to make his/her way in the world with and without access to information resources is a significant potential research area.” He concludes that research will need to return to large-scale projects ” that can guide government and business action in relation to the deployment of information and communication technologies.” He notices that a decline of academic research may follow from a tendency for governments to outsource this work to indepndent consultancy groups. So the good news maybe that contrary to the Ends‘ post-modernist discourse, no end is seen by Tom Wilson (a key figure of this field) to the need of research, though the nature and context of information may change:

I see no end to the need to explore, partly for theoretical reasons, but increasingly for policy reasons, how people discover, access, use, store for future use, share and disseminate information of all kinds.”

Somehow it seems we have come to this contradiction between access to information and acquisition of  knowledge. Formal teaching and schools’ crisis are taken as a reflex of this phenomenon. There is a lot to wonder and to put into the form of a problem or a question.

So, for instance Augusto Cury (I think he is nowadays a popular psychiatrist) thinking about the lost authority of teachers tells us that children are suffering from an Accelerated Thought Syndrom: “They have become consumers of products and services, not of ideas and sensibility. In the past, the volume of information doubled every 200 years, now it doubles every 5 years. This information overload leads to the development of anxiety, irritability…and the lack of respect for rules, and no single law is able to solve the problem of authority. What has to change is education, completely, to a more humanized education.” He continues: “We live in a moment of ilimited offer of information. Today, a child of seven years old has more information than the one available to a roman imperor. But these informations haven’t brought knowledge, knowledge in experience and wiseness. These informations cause stress, restlessness, anxiety. A functional hiperactivity is produced, in this sick system. This is what I called the Accelerated Thought syndrom.They suffer from headaches, muscle pain, lack of concentration, chronical insatisfaction, emotional imbalance, despise of rules…These reflect on an uncontrolled consume of products and services.”

The solution cuts through the recognition of some paradoxes: “The ability to store data is limited, but the creative ability is limitless”. “Never before has the industry of entertainment developed so much and never before people have been so sad and depressive”.

I can not immediatly subscribe this diagnosis, but I understand it. Although I cannot argue deeply, I would like to state the following impressions (to develop and review):

  1. Libraries are not compatible with lifetime, the expression of awe gazing at all the stored human knowledge is not a new emotion (Goethe, Jorge Luís Borges have given it a literary form – is it merely egological? From a buddhist point of view knowledge (S/O) is part of the suffering). The quest of knowledge has always been the source of some anxiety, we as ” #erotic creatures# conscious that we lack something– including, perhaps, the knowledge of what this “something” is – and who want to reach out [In fact, this continual reaching out constitutes the movement of becoming that Kierkegaard identifies as “existence”].”
  2. Two sides of the question need to be leveled: a psychiatrist will necessary have to be suspicious about something that doesn’t fit the individual, this is the scale that he is concerned with. And we need this kind of perspective and interpretation. The opposing rethoric is the information/knowledge society interpretation of this phenomenon. In between them we may find the needle.

O.K. To be continued.

I came across some nice slogans from Liz Poirier who is doing a Phd about “slow information”:

“Reading not scanning” . From twitter I got this title of a talk she gave “From Infomania to Infodiversity. Why libraries should be proud of their slow credentials” in City University London (I guess this is it, but I am not sure).

The importance of being a “real” librarian is that you are able to grasp these things: your 5 senses are into it.

I hope to follow this.

«Let’s follow the grouper» said the nice poet Alexandre O’Neill (who is also the author of some of the most well known slogans in portuguese advertisement – before advertisement was advertisement).

How well does the concept of meme apply to information research?

Studying both allow to answer this:

How different interpretations are drawn from a common phenomenological heritage.

What is the philosophical debate between Capurro and Floridi and what does it tell us about information?

Can we find a correspondance between fundamental forms of information (Bates, M.) and the semantic definition (Floridi, L.)?

In the behaviour/practice debate we are supposing that no disagreement exists over the concept of information. But is there?