Friday, November 25, 2005

Okay, here are the instructions for a paper I've been working on for several days:

"Compare two models or theories of information behavior. Your paper should demonstrate how well you understand the key concepts, assumptions, contexts, and practice implications of the frameworks that you choose to compare. It should also demonstrate your ability to analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and critically reflect on the range of ideas presented by the frameworks chosen."

The instructions go on from there. So how does that sound? Though it was killing me at first, I am having so much fun writing this paper!! Obviously getting a decent grade is a hope of mine, but even more so, I really want to understand the two theories I'm comparing.

I chose to compare Granovetter's Strength of Weak Ties and Elfreda Chatman's Information Poverty. In a nutshell, SWT says that people are "tied" to each other by strong ties and weak ties. Strong ties are people you know and trust (close friends, family). Weak ties are people you don't know as well, but have contact with and get information from (possibly co-workers, other acquaintances). Granovetter believes that people who have strong ties are similar to one another and generally have the same information sources. Acquaintances are less likely to be similar and more likely to have a wider variety of beliefs, thoughts, experiences, and perspectives. A community that has no links to "outsiders" is a very insular group and doesn't learn a lot information outside of their own experiences. Granovetter believes ideas and information travel through these weak ties. A lack of weak ties leads to a fragmented society. Very interesting.

Chatman's theory says that some groups of people, because of social norms, lack of ability, etc, choose not to seek information. You see this very often with poor people. It can also happen with people who don't have good technology skills or easy access to information. The idea of information poverty is very interesting.

While researching these theories I came across an excellent article by an 'information professional' in South Africa, Johannes Britz. His article, To know or not to know: a moral reflection on information poverty, was published in 2004 in the Journal of Information Science. Go find it and read it!

A few tidbits from the article:
“Information poverty is not restricted or limited to a technology/digital divide only. The information divide is not limited to the ‘technology insiders’ and ‘technology outsiders’ of cyberspace. It is a much more complex phenomenon including issues such as cultural and language diversity, levels of education and the ability/inability to access and benefit from information. Furthermore, the divide between the information rich and the information poor is not only a divide between societies and countries. It occurs also between individuals who might share the same cultural and physical space."
"It can be concluded that information poverty affects the quality of life of the vast majority of people on this earth. It has considerable social, political, cultural and economic implications, and therefore solutions must be found."
"In Egypt the minimum information standard for its citizens is affordable access to the Internet and a computer for every household. As an outcome of a National Information Project, which was initiated by the Egyption government, it was decided in 2000 that Internet services would be provided free to all Egyptian citizens. The only cost would be the telephone call. This was followed by a so-called 'computer for every home' project according to which the government subsidizes computers for poor households by means of easy instalments. Two other examples are the Netherlands and South Africa. In the Netherlands it was decided to provide the homeless with a permanent e-mail address. As early as 1994 the South African government drew up a policy that it should be possible for each South African to be within walking distance of a telephone."

And we whine when we get lousy cell-phone service while we're on our air-conditioned buses driving through town.

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