We had all the information, really. It was all there. We just didn't understand.
—Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow, 1997
I received my PhD in Information Studies from Drexel University's College of Computing & Informatics, and I am gratefully still at Drexel conducting research.
I am working toward a future where people can cope better with digital technology—that is, to be more attentive, aware, present and wise in the digital age. To get there, I study information experiences that are deeply meaningful for people, including art-making, athletic pursuits and religious practice. In what ways are these practices informative, and how are they changing in today's milieu? How can information move us emotionally, contributing to our pathic and moral knowledge? How can designers preserve and enrich these experiences in our changing world?
My research bridges several traditional academic fields, including human information behavior, neo-documentation studies, social computing, and philosophy and ethics of information. My work is qualitative and philosophical, and I focus on first-person experience. Methodologically, I work in phenomenology and arts-related research. My research is rooted in the tradition of information science, but with an eye toward the future. I am a proponent of the iSchools movement, and I am working to bring together the various subfields of information studies (including newer, digital-centric fields such as social informatics and human—computer interaction).
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.
As you can tell, my research spans and seeks to bring into conversation a number of traditional academic fields. Beyond those mentioned above, my work also plays with:
- Science and technology studies
- Digital humanities
- Computer-mediated communication
- History and philosophy of science
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 and documents at ScratchTap.
Artful CSCW and HCI
We know that technology can be informational, but can't it also be artful? I think so. In this broad research thread, I consider what technology designers can learn from artists and the arts for their work. This involves, first of all, taking art seriously as a form of technology. What do people learn from art? And what can technology designers learn from art and artists? As a start, I posit that art can help people develop moral knowledge, and I envision sociotechnical systems that engage people not only aesthetically but also morally. I also intend to provide lessons for how more "mundane" technological artifacts, such as online profiles, can be made more artful.
Self-Documentation and Society
A characteristic of modern life is our reliance on documents in virtually all sectors of society, and the nature of these documents influences the way we understand reality and ourselves. Among these documents are ones we create about ourselves, as evidence of some aspect of the self, a phenomenon I refer to as self-documentation. We are compelled to write resumes and CVs, we build personal websites and online profiles for socializing, commerce, dating and education, and we snap selfies with abandon. How does the concept of the document lend coherence to all these different forms of information creation? How do we construct and understand the self through documents? What dynamics are at play? This is some of the conceptual groundwork I did in my dissertation. In particular, I studied the artistic self-portrait as a kind of document. In my ongoing work, I am applying what I learned to technology design and education; and I am exploring the link between self-documentation and self-concept, as well as other forms of self-documentation, such as the selfie.
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 have conducted some further research on how ultrarunners make sense of the sport, which you can read about in the papers:
- There's no shortcut: Building understanding from information in ultrarunning
- The information of story: The genre and information activities of ultrarunning race reports
- Understanding and Information Constellations in Ultrarunning
- Beautiful and sublime: The aesthetics of running in a commodified world
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.
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.
Methodologies for Information Experience
Information experience is of increasing interest to information scientists, but how should it be researched? In some of my work, I contribute to the methodological literature in information experience. Some of this work is rather conceptual, such as my paper "Information and experience, a dialogue," which discusses how fiction can be informative, the nature of truth, and more. Some of it is much more nuts-and-bolts, such as my paper "Auto-hermeneutics," which spells out a methodology for studying your own information experiences.