Thursday, July 17, 2008

Memetic and Information Diseases in a Knowledge Society

Speculations towards the development of cures and preventive measures by Anthony Judge.
This is an adaptation of Networking Diseases: speculations towards the development of cures and preventive measures (Transnational Associations, 30, 1978). As argued there, despite widespread exposure to organizations and organizational systems in various states of growth, health and decay, it would appear that there is no convenient checklist of the malfunctions to which organizations are subject. The matter is of course normally broached through the various kinds of management problem, and the measures required to "get an ailing organization on its feet again". But the range of possible malfunctions is not identified as such, particularly for the kinds of structures -- like networks -- which are supposed neither to require, nor to lend themselves to, management.

In a knowledge society, there is a related need to better understand the "information diseases" to which individuals themselves are vulnerable within the networks in which they variously participate, or as they interact with their sources of information -- or indeed as they themselves act as producers of information.

In order to focus thinking more clearly on the information malfunctions to which individuals and networks may be subject, some guidelines are required to provoke recognition of unforeseen possibilities which might otherwise go unrecognized. In passing one may note the effort by Michael Haas (Types of asymmetry in social and political systems, 1967, see Table 1) to identify the different kinds of "asymmetry" to which systems may be subject. However he defines asymmetry as "an attribute of a system which may vary over time, space, and other such dimensions". Such asymmetry may or may not be viewed as associated with some kind of malfunction.
This text is intended to provoke an imaginative examination of the current information health of individuals and their networks. When discussing diseases one should take care to avoid engaging in medical "quackery" -- how that might be understood is an essential part of the challenge in this context.