The fossilizing of knowledge: ancient past, hyper-evolving present and far future

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - 15:00 to 17:00

A workshop at Aboagora 2014 conference together with Prof. Jan A. Zalasiewicz (University of Leicester).

Read more about Aboagora at and the programme of the event.

Abstract of the workshop

A central tenet of our society since the mid 20th century is ’information’. We live in an information society, we use information technologies and we continuallyneed and search information. The emergence of information as a defining conceptstems from Claude Shannon in 1948, with key advances in information technologyand the ’informationalization’ of how people talk and think about things. Information has become colloquial, as well as a scientific concern.

Information clearly existed before Shannon. Texts, whether written on a clay tablet or stored in computer memory, contain information. Over the past two decades, though, information science has emphasized the information content of all kinds of tangible and intangible ’things’ whether they are physical objects, concepts, words or patterns. All of these things can be seen simultaneously as informative and as ingredients of knowing and thus important to developing an understanding of knowledge. This does not explain what information or knowledge is, though. One might bypass ensuing tricky ontological questions by suggesting that both information and knowledge are verbs and activities rather than things per se. Hjørland’sconclusion that “information is not a thing, but that all things can be informative” is close to such pragmatism.

In a pragmatic non-definition of information and knowledge, information historydescribes how different things have been informative throughout the ages, and how they have been linked to human pursuits of knowing. In addition to material information, until recently the informative thing par excellence of the Western world has been the printed document and its compound form, the book. During the last 20 years, these venerable physical objects have been rapidly torn down. The new informative things are Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram and Kik, or Facebook for slightly older people, and email for the real dinosaurs.

A major headache for information and communication scholars is what these changes imply. On the one hand these digital things are new toys that tell old stories.  On the other, these new tools may be changing the premises of how we know things at present. On a broader timescale they are questions of how different things have been informative at different times, and of how their mutual significance has changed. From our perspective now, they are new things which may leave traces for futuregenerations to keep or discard – just as our museums, historians and archaeologiststoday are struggling to decide what to preserve and discard as regards digital and non-digital information, records and artefacts.

In the mid-twentieth century, the world changed, too.  As human society slowly evolved over millennia from hunter-gatherers to farmers, then constructed cities, the Earth’s command and control systems of lithosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere andclimate, had stayed about stable.  That began to change with the Industrial Revolution, as human population rose above a billion, and carbon-based energy supplanted muscle-power.  Then came the astonishing post-WW2 global phase of change: still continuing and, indeed, accelerating.  In one human lifespan, global population tripled, energy use rose severalfold, and ever-accelerating technological change became global.  These are the conditions of the Anthropocene, as the course of Earth history changed.  Earth’s physical, chemical and biological systems are leaving the stability of the ten-millenia-long Holocene, in a step change without parallel in our planet’s history.

Information, and the way humans have controlled it, is clearly a fundamental part of these transformations.  We explore the relations between the human world of information and more ancient world of the Earth system. And we wonder, as technology evolves ever more rapidly, whether humans are still in charge.

Archaeology and Archaeological Information in the Digital Society shows how the digitization of archaeological information, tools and workflows, and their interplay with both old and new non-digital practices throughout the archaeological information process, affect the outcomes of archaeological work, and in the end, our general understanding of the human past.

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Taking Health Information Behaviour into Account: implications of a neglected element for success- ful implementation of consumer health technologies on older adults (HIBA) is an Academy of Finland funded research project at Åbo Akademi University.

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Sheds new light on the potential of extra-academic knowledge-making as a contribution in formations of knowledge throughout society, explores extra-academic knowledge as a useful resource in academy, policy development, evidence based practices, and innovation, and focuses on the informational dimensions, stemming from and grounded in an informationscience perspective, which provides the means to address practical information-related issues throughout knowledge-making processes.

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