Research & Teaching
We had all the information, really. It was all there. We just didn't understand.
I'm a PhD candidate in Information Studies at Drexel University. I study how people build understanding through dealing with information. I am attracted to information experiences that are deeply meaningful: engaging with sacred texts, running ultramarathons and making art.
In this work, I draw from research in human information behavior, neo-documentation studies and other corners of library and information science generally, as well as philosophy—particularly hermeneutic phenomenology and aesthetics. I align myself with the human sciences, which explore what it means to be human in order to create a humane and sustainable global future.
N.B.: I'm more interested in questions than answers. Some researchers like to furnish the ballroom; I spend most of my time plumbing the basement.
The biggest thing I want to do in my research is broaden our understanding of information (and, concomitantly, knowledge, truth and meaning). We tend to think of information as something cognitive and objective that floats around in the ether. With the document perspective, my research highlights how information always has a form, which unignorably contributes to the meaning humans make of it. We also tend to consider information as solely cognitive and verbal, not addressing how information can move us emotionally or contribute to tacit or pathic knowledge. With this in mind, my work highlights the human experience of encountering and interacting with information and documents—especially when it's nonverbal.
Second, I recognize that most research in the social sciences focuses on problems. In information science, scholars discuss information needs, gaps in knowledge, social injustice, the digital divide and information illiteracy. These are important issues, but for a discipline that seeks to offer a comprehensive account of how people, information and technology relate, they are not the whole story. Commensurately, my work follows Jenna Hartel's call for research on the pleasurable and profound aspects of information.
My (semi-)related interests include:
- History and philosophy of science
- Philosophy of artificial intelligence
- Philosophy of sport
- Machine learning
- Writing systems
Before I came to Drexel, I earned a BA in Advertising and Spanish from Marquette University; a graduate certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee; and an MA in Hispanic Linguistic, Literary and Cultural Studies from New York University.
I blog about written language at ScratchTap.
Self-Portraiture as Documentation for Understanding
Once done only by fine artists, today self-portraiture seems nearly universal. Art historians call the self-portrait the defining genre of modernity, and it is taking new forms in today's technological climate. Self-portraiture is an important site for research because art-making, and self-portraiture in particular, exemplifies the human faculty for meaning-making and understanding. Information science has not traditionally commented on understanding, instead ultimately limiting itself to information access, but research on such higher-order epistemic aims is necessary to get over the problems related to information overload and anxiety that spring up amidst unbridled access to information. In my dissertation, I will explore how self-portraiture can be conceptualized as a form of documentation (that is, a document-based information practice), asking the question, How do self-portraitists build understanding in their work? If we can get a better sense of how people build understanding in self-portraiture, then we can extend that knowledge by studying understanding in other domains and apply what we learn to education (particularly in information literacy) and the design of information systems to support the building of understanding. I will defend my research proposal in early 2017 and conduct this research throughout the year.
What is a document? When is a document? How is a document? Since Michael Buckland's famous 1991 article "Information As Thing," research in the neo-documentalist tradition has flourished. I situate myself in this current, and I contribute to the theoretical aspects of documents through phenomenological exploration. That is, the study of how documents reveal themselves to us. I have written on how documents are part-human, how documents come to be authoritative by their fixity, and how documents unfold as time. My paper co-authored with K. F. Latham proposes a framework for discussing the phenomenological aspects of documental being and becoming.
Running as Information
Ultrarunning is a hobby of mine, and it's also become a research object. During ultramarathons, athletes confront many potential problems. As such, participation in such events can put athletes in states of high stress, which may be sustained for many hours. My first paper, "Information on the run: Experiencing information during an ultramarathon" explored some of the information processes at play in endurance running. I am currently conducting further studies on how ultrarunners make sense of the sport, such as in my forthcoming paper "There's no shortcut: Building understanding from information in ultrarunning." In this vein, I also published a philosophical paper exploring the different motivations of runners of different distances.
The Religious Information Experience
It could be said that technology and religion are two of the most important things that make us human. Through technology, we interface with the material world; and through religion, we interface with the spiritual world. Thus technology and religion have always been intertwined, but perhaps they haven't always been friendly neighbors. In an early paper, I explored the co-evolution of technology and religion from a historical perspective, introducing the notion of religious information landscapes as conditioned, in part, by each religion's value system. In another paper, I explored how believers experience their sacred text as conveyed through a panoply of different technologies. In future research, I will continue to investigate these questions in diverse specific cases.
My teaching experience includes language instruction in classrooms and one-on-one, as well as preparing lectures for online courses in information science, particularly around bibliographic referencing.
I've prepared the following lectures:
- Referencing issues in everyday life (2015), Text
- Citation systems (2015), Text
- Citing sources: An overview for academic librarians (2016), Recorded Presentation
I'm worried by the increasing corporatization of everything. When money runs the show, we see the world in terms of dollars. Everything—be it time or our very earth—becomes a resource to be used. This impoverishes our relationship to the world, to each other, and to ourselves. We can never have enough money, and we can never have enough time—consequently, we don't give things the thought and attention they deserve, we compete rather than collaborate, and we practice narrow skills rather than cultivate understanding. We feel overwhelmed by information rather than empowered by it.
This is a terribly unfulfilling way to be. But perhaps more critically: The great achievements we humans have made throughout history, from Einstein's thought experiments while working in a patent office to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels, have been done in leisure—for their own sake. The serious leisure perspective in sociology has shown how leisure pursuits can be fulfilling, but, as Josef Pieper has argued, leisure is the very basis of human culture.
Academia is increasingly subject to the corporatization of everything. Research is directed by top-down initiatives and funded by business interests. Findings are expected to be predictable, compartmentalized and marketable. Academics are not given time to think or read, but they are expected to do research. Teaching is being homogenized and moved online. "Learning outcomes" are expected to be observable and clear. Realizing all this has made me worry that I've chosen the wrong life path.
But I don't think it's too late. I have been inspired by Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber's book The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, and I endeavor to cultivate Slowness in my life as an academic. To illustrate what this means, I reprint the Slow Professor Manifesto from Berg and Seeber's book (pp. ix–x) here:
We are Slow Professors. We believe that adopting the principles of Slow into our professional practice is an effective way to alleviate work stress, preserve humanistic education, and resist the corporate university. The Slow Movement – originating in Slow Food – challenges the frantic pace and standardization of contemporary culture. While slowness has been celebrated in architecture, urban life, and personal relations, it has not yet found its way into education. Yet, if there is one sector of society which should be cultivating deep thought, it is academic teachers. Corporatization has compromised academic life and sped up the clock. The administrative university is concerned above all with efficiency, resulting in a time crunch and making those of us subjected to it feel powerless. Talking about professors’ stress is not self-indulgent; not talking about it plays into the corporate model.
In the corporate university, power is transferred from faculty to managers, economic justifications dominate, and the familiar “bottom line” eclipses pedagogical and intellectual concerns. Slow Professors advocate deliberation over acceleration. We need time to think, and so do our students. Time for reflection and open-ended inquiry is not a luxury but is crucial to what we do.
The language of crisis dominates the literature on the corporate university, urging us to act before it is too late. We are more optimistic, believing that resistance is alive and well. We envisage Slow Professors acting purposefully, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience. By taking the time for reflection and dialogue, the Slow Professor takes back the intellectual life of the university.
If you're interested in joining me in Slowness, I urge you to read The Slow Professor. It's only 90 pages! Also see:
- Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, by Martin Seligman, especially the section "The Virtue of Slowness," pp. 110–114
- The Humane Arts, a lecture series by Wes Cecil on how we can live lives that contribute to cultural fluorescence
- Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, on why good thinking takes time
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport, with practical advice for structuring your life to support deep work (the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task)