Information science should be amplifying contradictions, too

Submitted by Isto Huvila on Sun, 05/24/2020 - 01:21

Recently, I happened to stumble upon an interesting piece, written by Amanda Ripley already for a couple of years ago, on how journalists should start making a push to present the complexity of the matters they are reporting -- and stop trying to simplify everything to death. Extreme simplicity that has become the gold standard of how news stories and everything else is reported in the professional and social media alike needs to go away. It is not only detrimental to how we understand and don't understand matters but also how we can come in terms with each other as human beings. If everything that we know consists of polarised opinions it is really difficult to avoid shouting at each other and to engage in a proper dialogue. It is, as William Isaacs noted in his popular volume a couple of decades back -- a seldom exercised form of social exchange that requires afterthought but is based on a set of fairly simple principle of listening to each other and taking each other seriously. 

Journalists are not, however, alone with the guilt of trying to simplify everything to death. This is -- unfortunately -- something information science is doing as much. The assumption that people would be rational and put effort to make informed choices has been guiding much of the research on information seeking and retrieval, information management and information services. People are still very much portrayed as (rational) individuals who are seeking information to fulfil their (rational) needs instead of that we would be inclined to calculate and minimise our efforts, and be extremely receptive to information services that offer us easiness, (false) sense of empowerment, and an illusion of completeness. Are we who are researchers and professionals in the information field still too blind to that people (including us) are trying to outsource trust and (meta-)game us through the hurdles of making decisions with not only incomplete but also incompetent information -- and being in simplistic terms 'rational' in doing so? Perhaps not, but may be we have not been exactly that keen to come up with practical advice and ideas how to do change the situation. We haven't necessary admitted the real boundaries of how things are known and how to help others and let them help themselves in an effective manner

It is obviously difficult to break out of old orthodoxies. It is especially difficult when they provide us with a simple explanation why things are not as well as they could be. It is easier to suggest that people should be acting rationally and learn to do things properly. It is much more difficult to self act rationally and learn to do things properly -- or to admit that perhaps no one is doing that and trying to figure out what amplifying contradictions, and implementing dialogue and conflict resolution would mean in the context of information management, and new and existing information systems and services. Information science -- both as an academic discipline and field of practice -- could and perhaps should also amplify contradictions and boldly aim to make information seeking (more) difficult again. Doing that would probably mean that we would need to admit that we are in the business of conflict resolution, too, and not only in that of providing information.