Information Forms in Everyday Life

News in recent years have featured a wide-array of “information problems” as background story. Setting a few of these side-by-side lets us get a sense of what I mean by “informational forms.”

“Stove-piping” happens when “raw information” is inappropriately transmitted directly to higher-ups without being “vetted” which refers to systematic “sifting, disambiguating, analyzing” (Wikipedia).

In news organizations and financial organizations information can threaten conflicts of interest and so “firewalls” or “Chinese walls” are maintained : an information barrier that prevents members in one part of the organization from knowing what’s going on in another part (news and advertising in journalism, analysis and investment in banking).

When this effect is generated inadvertently we have “information silos” — situations in which entities have information that one, the other, or both could benefit from sharing that does not occur because of ignorance, lack of compatible systems, or organizational jealousies.

There are also cases where the problem is neither a deficit of information in a particular organizational location nor disregard for standard procedures but variations on information overload or “too much information” (see post from 20080915). In these situations we have real world phenomena generating so much information that it’s nearly impossible to construct an apparatus that is up to the task of figuring out what it means. At one extreme we have issues of transparency and democracy — is there a point at which more information does not help voters make informed decisions because they simply can’t expend the energy necessary to make sense of the information? At the other is information — and here the financial industry is the example — that’s simply too difficult for those who need to understand it to understand.

Next, I’ll work on turning these preliminary examples into a typology of information forms — identifying the underlying dimensions along which they are arrayed with hope of completing the typology with as yet unexamined forms.

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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