Information Experience in Theory and Design, by Tim Gorichanaz

In my book Information Experience in Theory and Design (2020, Emerald), I seek to reframe the discussion of information engagement through the lens of information experience, an exciting emerging area within information science.

Unlike traditional information behavior research, which is limited to how people need, seek, and search for information, information experience looks at how people understand, use, and are shaped by information. As such, information experience goes beyond identifying information sources to examine how people are informed by information—and not just “informed,” but formed and transformed. Thus, information experience shows the breadth of phenomena that are informative to people, beyond what is traditionally recognized as informative in library and information studies (e.g., books, articles). This means that information experience presents a way to overcome the limitations of earlier paradigms of information behavior. In this way, information experience connects with other human-centered areas of information research and design, including information literacy and human–computer interaction.

Offering a rigorous theoretical foundation for information experience and insights for design, this book brings together research from across the information field as well as philosophy. For researchers or students in any area of the information field, from librarianship to human–computer interaction, this is an exciting new text investigating a fascinating new field of study.

Split into three parts, Information Experience in Theory and Design presents a multifaceted investigation of information experience, centered around the themes of understanding, self, and meaning.

  • Part One (Understanding) explores the link between information, understanding and questioning; how moral change arises from information; and how to design for understanding.
  • Part Two (Self) explores the concept of the human self as information; the links between information, identity and society; and how to design for self-care.
  • Part Three (Meaning) explores the connection between information and meaning; how meaning and craft contribute to the good life; and how to design for meaning.

Below, you can read a preprint of the introduction to the book as well as summaries of each of the chapters. You can purchase the book on Amazon and other places, and you can request it at your local academic library.

Click the title or arrow to expand each chapter summary.

Introduction [Preprint] [DOI]

Part One: Understanding

Chapter 1: Information and Understanding [DOI]

Information studies is concerned with information, but what is information for? That question is usually answered with reference to epistemic aims, the default of which is generally assumed to be knowledge. Following recent work in epistemology, this chapter argues that, from the perspective of information experience, understanding is an epistemic aim well suited to the field. Understanding refers to the grasping of inferential and explanatory relationships among a body of information. Two forms of understanding can be distinguished: ontological and ontic. Ontological understanding is the backgrund activity through which perception and mentation happen. Thus, ontological understanding is a matter of an agent’s conscious and experiential engagement with their environment—in short, it is one’s making sense of their situation. Over this background, ontic understanding is made. Ontic understanding can be defined as a coherent and self-transparent network of knowledge that has been constructed by a conscious agent through ontological understanding. All in all, the concept of understanding provides an account for how bodily experience, recorded information and other forms of information can contribute epistemically in concert.

Chapter 2: Questioning [DOI]

A good scholarly publication sparks new questions for future research. In the same way, many kinds of information experiences drive questioning. This is a novel counterpoint to the traditional view that information and documents simply provide answers to queries. Research suggests that questioning is a crucial component in the building of understanding. Questioning is often defined linguistically, as a certain kind of utterance, but more deeply it can be understood as an openness to what the world can offer—the beginning of thought, and the medium by which information informs. In this chapter, I consider questioning through the lens of document work, which entails the myriad behaviors and activities related to documents in a given setting, including both the creation of new documents and dealing with existing documents (using, sharing, copying, destroying, etc.). If a document provides an answer, then document work can be conceptualized as the building of understanding, and questioning is the mechanism by which understanding is built. These concepts offer a framework for investigating document use as an experience.

Chapter 3: Moral Change [DOI]

How does information change people’s minds? Information studies has generally assumed that when a person encounters a piece of information, they are informed. This does illustrate becoming informed in some cases, but not all. For instance, sometimes misinformed people simply become more entrenched in their views upon encountering new information. This is because, for us humans, many of our beliefs are simply not based on an ongoing balancing of the facts, but rather on post-hoc rationalization and cheerleading of particular views that are already held emotionally. Moreover, information informs us in ways beyond the provision of facts: it also shapes us as persons. In recognition of the ethical dimension of information, I suggest that information can also furnish moral knowledge, which can be defined as knowledge pertaining to how one should act in order to live best. Most of the discussions in philosophy on moral knowledge have focused on art, defined broadly to include literature and performance as well as visual art, and there has likewise been research on this aspect of art in information studies. Research in the information involved in religious conversion shows that people are informed, formed and transformed by experiences with information and documents. I suggest that all information can contribute to moral knowledge and consequently to human understanding and action. To understand this, we must think beyond what is "objectively present" in an information object toward how that object interacts with the human experiencing it.

Chapter 4: Designing for Understanding [DOI]

How is understanding built? This chapter operationalizes the discussion from the previous chapters to offer some design strategies for creating information systems that promote the building of understanding. These strategies are, namely, multiple perspectives, slowness, and intentional struggle. Examples of and existing literature on these design strategies are discussed.

Part Two: Self

Chapter 5: Information and the Self [DOI]

A defining aspect of humans is our self-consciousness; we experience ourselves as selves, and thus the self is a vital theme for information experience. A self can be conceptualized informationally, showing how the information and documents we deal with, and the practices by which we deal with them, constitute who we are. At root, a self is an encapsulation of an entity from its environment. To speak of human selves, this involves a biological encapsulation, a cognitive one, and a conscious one. The biological encapsulation is formed by chemical bonds; the cognitive by perceptual information processing; and the conscious by semantic bonds of narrative and self-awareness. Selves can change within all these encapsulations, and “being informed” simply is this change. Following this theory of the self as well as discussions of the extended mind, we can understand one’s information and documents to also in part constitute a person’s self. Among these, self-documents are a special case, those documents we create about ourselves (e.g.~online profiles), which both represent and modulate who we are.

Chapter 6: Identity [DOI]

Identity often comes up in discussions of information experience, just as it is an increasingly salient concept in today's political landscape. What does identity mean? Oftentimes identity is assumed to mean social identity, or membership in a social group. We can also discern personal identity, emphasizing a person's uniqueness. Compare a ∋ A (social identity) and a = a (personal identity). In essence, identity is a relationship of equivalence. Of course, no two entities are exactly equal, if only because they occupy different points in space. Identification then requires abstraction, or discerning what particular aspects of a thing matter for the purposes at hand. Two industrially produced products can be said to be identical if we ignore differences in space and accidents of production. Likewise, a person can identify with a social group if the only features of that person that matter (for the moment) are those which characterize the social group. When a person says they identify with $X$ or as $Y$, they are making a claim about what matters to them in defining their self right now—because experience itself is pointing out some aspects of existence that matter to a person (that are attended to by that person) at a particular time. Information can contribute to a person's identity in that it helps a person discover what aspects of their self matter to them; this mattering in turn influences one's future information seeking and use.

Chapter 7: The Ontic Trust [DOI]

The self should not be understood atomistically; indeed, the very concept of the self is only necessary in social contexts. There is a link, then, between self and world. In my view, this can be conceptualized through Luciano Floridi's concept of the ontic trust. This concept was named after the legal concept of the trust, in which one party (the trustor) settles some property on a second party (the trustee) for the benefit of a third party (the beneficiary). The ontic trust is entered unwillingly and inescapably, but it is not coercive; rather, it constitutes a caring bond, an invitation to respect and appreciate others (including other people and all organisms and things). The concept has seen some discussion, but no one has yet commented on the role of the self in the ontic trust. Selves are clusters of experience—we are all little corners of the universe. As participants in the ontic trust, we can see that we must take care of ourselves because that is tantamount to taking care of the universe. Thus, self-care is an important ethical directive in the information society. This is not a solipsistic or egotistical claim; rather, it is the recognition that without a good self, good work for others is not possible. It is the recognition that all beings are connected, but that certain actions must be directed by agents toward themselves for the subsequent betterment of all.

Chapter 8: Designing for the Self [DOI]

Some of today's most widely used technologies do not seem conducive to self-care, and consequently they do not nourish us as selves. Rather, in today’s most lauded sociotechnical systems, from Google search to Facebook, users' participation (free labor) is commodified and channeled into corporate profits. Users do engage in self-focused activities, such as posting selfies and status updates, but these do not have the character of self-care. This amounts to self-obsession without self-consideration. An illustration is given by comparing the early-modern artistic practice of self-portraiture with the modern-day smartphone practice of selfie-making. Self-portraiture has been shown to be conducive to self-care, whereas the selfie by and large is not. This comparison invites strategies for injecting self-care into selfie-making technology, as an entree into designing for self-care generally. These strategies include jardin secret, self questioning, and multiplicity.

Part Three: Meaning

Chapter 9: Information and Meaning [DOI]

Information is often defined in terms of meaning. Traditional theories of meaning, each with some drawbacks, have been rooted in language; but a more satisfactory theory of meaning may be rooted in information. Meaning can be defined as coordinated action toward some end. In this sense, the meaning of something is the way it affords and constrains actions, and it is therefore inextricable from its context. Meaning can be discussed in several senses, including personal, social, environmental, historical, political, etc. Because information studies is concerned with the intersection of people and information, two key conceptualizations of meaning are personal meaning and social meaning. When activities have this meaningful dimension, they make a person’s life feel more valuable and worth living, as a person and/or as a member of a group. In general, personal and social meaning include aspects such as purpose and connection with others.

Chapter 10: The Good Life [DOI]

From the perspective of information ethics, one of the purposes of human life is flourishing. This means people ought to be free to engage in creative and flexible actions that allow the fullest realization of their potential as intelligent, decision-making agents—i.e.~those actions that a person experiences as meaningful. Researchers have suggested that many people in the post-industrial West experience a lack of meaning in their lives, and this "crisis of meaning" is implicated in many of society’s ills; consequently many people are not flourishing as they might. Flourishing relies on information access, processing and understanding, as well as a particular meaningful experiential dimension of information activities. To speak of information experience, personally meaningful activities are experienced as self-constructive ones, characterized by focused curiosity and presence, and which have a central practice that is supported by peripheral practices. Examples of personally meaningful information behavior from the serious-leisure hobby of ultramarathon running are discussed as illustration. In reaching for a more ethical information society, we should seek to infuse more of our information activities with deeper personal meaning.

Chapter 11: Craft [DOI]

Craft has been described as a personally meaningful orientation toward an activity—this orientation is what distinguishes craft from mere labor. This conception of craft can be traced back to the Greek poiesis, or revealing. Poiesis entails both passive and active components: passively, poiesis denotes being receptive to what is given in the world; actively, it involves the trained judgment of decision-making. Information activities can become more meaningful, then, if they are infused with this craft ethic. Fundamentally, this is a particular orientation of a person toward their world, one of finding distinctions that matter to a person.

Chapter 12: Designing for Meaning [DOI]

For all that many technology designers today gloss their work in terms of "creating meaningful experiences," most design is focused on efficiency, productivity, self-indulgence and pleasure-seeking, and little discussion has been had on what "meaningful experiences" actually means. Still, there is an opportunity and a need to design for meaning. In the research literature, there are some precedents for this, rooted in the Slow Technology movement. That research suggests, for instance, that personally meaningful designs should make space for evolution over time; be upgradeable, maintainable and replaceable; and afford focused rather than distracting use. This work has room to be deepened and expanded. To begin, we can look to paradigms in psychology and philosophy for techniques to cultivate personal meaning: Life Review and poietic judgment. Two design strategies that emerge from this are noticing and purposing. But perhaps more important than following any particular strategies is the embodiment of a particular designerly mood conducive to engaging users with personal meaning.