We had all the information, really. It was all there. We just didn't understand.
—Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow, 1997
I'm a PhD candidate in Information Studies at Drexel University. I am working toward a future where people can live more conscientiously with digital technology. To get there, I study information activities 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 technological milieu?
My work is qualitative and humanistic in method. It spans several traditional academic disciplines, drawing most heavily from human information behavior, document theory, philosophy of information and phenomenology.
Digital technologies are changing virtually every aspect of human life: work and leisure, social structures, our sense of time... even who we consider ourselves to be, and the role of humans in the universe. This is what I want to help us understand. Within this, I want to show 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.
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.
My research is rooted in information studies, but with an eye toward bringing its traditions into the future. I draw from research in information behavior, neo-documentation studies, and art-related research, as well as philosophy—particularly hermeneutic phenomenology and philosophy of information. Moreover, I am interested in bringing together the work in these storied fields with conversations unfolding in newer, digital technology–centric fields such as social informatics and human—computer interaction.
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:
- History and philosophy of science
- Computer-mediated communication
- Science and technology studies
- Philosophy of sport
- Digital humanities
- 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 and documents at ScratchTap.
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 am doing in my dissertation. Based on my dissertation proposal, I was honored to receive the 2017 Litwin Books Award for Ongoing Dissertation Research.
Self-Portraiture as Self-Documentation
Once done only by fine artists, today self-portraiture seems nearly universal in the form of the selfie. 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. My dissertation explores how self-portraiture can be conceptualized as a form of documentation, asking questions like: What is the difference between a selfie and a self-portrait? What is the value of self-portraiture? If we can approach these questions, we can better understand how to truly democratize the nourishing aspects of self-portraiture through technology—something the selfie seems to gesture toward without completing.
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 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"
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.