So, to kick off with definitions

I was taught, back in the day, that when indulging in academic discussion, it was vital to ‘first define your terms’.  So, I’ll bravely (or foolishly) start the discussion on definitions – or explanations – in order to achieve, in the end, mutually understood concepts.  I suggest that the aim here is not so much to attempt to develop a single phrasing or understanding of a term, as much as to understand how each term (‘word’ or ‘phrase’) is used within particular disciplinary territories, or perhaps even for different purposes.  In other words, how are these ‘terms’ conceptualised?

And I’m going to, perhaps even more bravely or foolishly, start with the terms that are so commonly used in our disciplines/professions.  (You’ll note that I put these words together, to suggest their strongly interrelated nature, much like Foucault used ‘power/knowledge’ for the same purpose).  These words are, I believe, data, information, knowledge, documents and records.  After a great deal of exposure to the literature in librarianship, information science, recordkeeping and archival science, I remained frustrated by the overwhelming number of definitions of these terms, and even more by the total lack of agreement and consistency in these definitions.  This gave me the impetus to study this topic in some detail for several years, and I arrived at the following conclusions.

The predominant image or metaphor currently expressed is that of a hierarchy, with ‘data’ at the bottom of a pyramid-shaped structure, supporting ‘information’ at the next level, and topped by ‘knowledge’.  The explanation is given that ‘data’ are the primary construction element: when these are ‘processed’, they become ‘information’ which, likewise, when processed, becomes knowledge.  Exactly what happens during the ‘processing’ phase is not explained.  It is presumed that this can be by a computer, and so ‘data’ can be seen as synonymous with ‘bits’, which are processed and understood (by the computer) as ‘bytes’, these bytes can, in certain sequences, be translated into various symbols (such as letters of various alphabets, punctuation marks, etc.) and so, in various combinations, form ‘words’.  These ‘words’ are not, of course, understood conceptually be the computer as referring to any other entity or phenomenon: they are simply sequences or patterns.  Algorithmically (and computer scientists, I stand to be corrected here), such patterns can be programmed as ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ – hence the development of spellcheckers, for example.

The data-information-knowledge model therefore may be useful to computer scientists, if ‘data’ as a term is seen to represented the concept ‘bits’ – the presence or absence of an electrical or electro-magnetic charge.  However, it also suggests that computers are capable of producing ‘knowledge’, which is a conclusion with which I disagree.  Quite strongly.  If this model is used in a human context, it suggests that we accumulate ‘data’ somehow from our environment, and these include things like temperature (rather than the experience of heat or cold), and then process them into ‘information’ – presumably using only our cognitive abilities, which are sometimes regarded as little more than the add/subtract/compare processes of the computer. ‘Data’ are understood largely, in addition, to being ‘facts’ – many dictionaries provide this as an explanation of the term.  The problem with ‘fact’ is twofold: firstly, it suggests that it is ‘true’ – and of course the notion of ‘truth’ and what it is remains largely unresolved – at least in philosophical circles; furthermore, ‘facts’ are socially constructed.  We make ‘facts’ through the ways in which we frame time, space, measurement, power, and so forth.  ‘Information’ is understood to be some kind of result of analysis of the data having been ‘processed’.  But does this mean learned, understood, made meaning of? And information in turn is ‘processed’ (once again, it is not clear what activities are included) in order to become knowledge.  Distinctions are not drawn between the kinds of knowledges that we have: knowledge of things, knowledge about things, knowledge how to do things, etc.  I strongly resist the concepts of  ‘tacit’ and ‘explicit’ knowledge, however, which will become clearer later.

I am of the view that ‘knowledge’ is the place to begin an analysis of the other two concepts.  ‘Knowledge’ is what we, as human beings, have: it is what we ‘know’ – whether we know we know it or not.  Sometimes we have forgotten ‘stuff’, or do not realise that we know ‘stuff’. We acquire knowledge in a number of ways: firstly, we are born with the ability to acquire knowledge and language, after birth we experience the world through our five senses. Aristotle was particularly keen on this idea; Plato felt that our world was a mirage of the true or essential world. We also require knowledge vicariously, through other people, or rather, other people telling us of their direct experiences. If they record these experiences in some way, for example in writing, we may still learn from and experience their experiences across time and space.

So, I understand information to be that part of the persons knowledge that he or she chooses to share our with others, and which he or she will represent using a language of their choice, which may be spoken language, or dance or art or mathematics, for example. Our understanding of the message will depend upon our ability to decode their language: we must be able to interpret the symbolic representation of their ideas. Knowledge is, as previously stated the sum total of the accumulation of ideas and experiences that we individually possess. Data culturally or socially constructed symbols; they may be numbers or figures, or statements: in either case, there are embedded in a particular contextual understanding and represent nearly what is believed to be true at a particular moment and in particular space (which is why I am able to refer to the ideas of Aristotle and Plato).

Finally, I will say that to extend this understanding of data, information and knowledge, (DIK) I further believe that  information is represented in language, and rerepresented in writing–symbols that represent spoken language– which can  be recorded on a material which may or may not be more less durable, and that material constitutes a “document”.  Thus, a document can be understood to be a container of information. Some documents provide evidence of a business transaction, and these documents known as “records”.

I look forward to your analysis, critique, and commentary on these ideas.

All the best, Sue

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About Susan
Converging ICTs, multidisciplinarity, making knowledge and making meaning.

13 Responses to So, to kick off with definitions

  1. Pingback: Mind Matters » Poesia e Conoscenza

  2. Enrico F says:

    Interesting insight, but as getaneha says definitions are always elusive. I was writing down a comment when he/she preceeded me with Weinberger’s quote about Heidegger’s hammer.
    Just one quick reference question: the idea of the DIKW pyramid (data > information > knowledge > wisdom) sounds really appealing to me, but I cannot remember the source from which it is derived. Which authors do describe this model?

    • getaneha says:

      @Enrico: The DIKW model is attributed to prof. Russell Ackoff, an organisational theorist (source: From Data to Wisdom, 1989). He adopted his model from poet T. S. Eliot who wrote:
      “Where is the Life we have lost in living?
      Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
      Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? ”
      http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/T._S._Eliot

      @Sue &all: below, I tried to attempt to define data, information and knowledge.

      1.Data: anything that is perceivable by any one or more of our sense organs.
      Eg. A cluster of clouds, a car passing by, a record in relational database, bird sitting on my window, etc.

      2.Information: contextualisation of data through description, interpretation, etc.
      Eg. I write/describe/provide-account-of the cluster of clouds on the sky (such as, I see the cloud making a shape of a white horse or I provide a short account of a car accident to a police).

      3. Knowledge: conceptualisation (‘creating a mental model’) of information.
      Eg. I create a mental image of the street protests in Tahirir square and then link this to the ideals of freedom of information and associate that to how technology enables such movements…etc.

    • getaneha says:

      Data to Wisdom, 1989). He adopted his model from poet T. S. Eliot who wrote:
      Where is the Life we have lost in living?
      Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
      Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/T._S._Eliot

      Let me also throw my own formulation of the definitions of DIK:

      1.Data: anything that is perceivable by any one or more of our sense organs. A cluster of clouds, a car passing by, a structured data on a table in a database, bird near my window, etc.
      2. Information: contextualisation of data through description, interpretation, etc. Example: I write/describe/ provide-account-of/ the cluster of clouds on the sky (such as, I see the cloud making a shape of a horse or I provide account of a car accident to police).

      3. Knowledge: conceptualising (‘create mentally and abstractly’) information. (for example, I create a mental image of the street protests in Tahirir square and then link this to freedom of information and how that would transform political landscape).

    • I am so glad you asked this question. The DIK hierarchy has interesting origins, according to Shara (2005) who undertook a study to discover when this metaphor was first used. He discovered it in Harlan Cleveland in 1982, and then in Milan Zeleny in 1987. But the hierarchy is first suggested in a poem by T. S. Eliot, published in 1934, called The chorus of the rock:

      Where is the Life we have lost in living?
      Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
      Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

      It is astonishing that information work should seek to have itself considered as a science based on a definition of the basic object of its knowledge domain that is given in a poem, but it is an equally surprising claim given that the DIK hierarchy does not add much to establishing the nature of these concepts. Furthermore, dictionaries (the ‘lexical’ definition) describe these words in terms of EACH OTHER, without indicating that there is any relationship between them at all. As noted, the DIK model (I leave out Wisdom deliberately, as I believe that it outside our professional sphere). which seems to explain the relationships between data, information and knowledge, lends itself well to computer scientists, even though the supposed connections implied by the hierarchy are rather superficial. More importantly, it has little to offer those of us who deal with recorded information.

      In particular, our professions are predicated upon the assumption that information is useful to people – if not immediately, then perhaps later(and I am phrasing this as openly and loosely as I can). Trying to conceive of ‘information’ that may be useful to people being composed of ‘processed data’ doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a bit like somebody perhaps knowing the contents of an entire encylopedia: is this person knowledgeable? I would say that such a person is more like an idiot savant, as there is little place for the understanding and making meaning that we humans are capable of, or for the ability to modify incoming ‘information’ or ‘data’ or ‘experience’ according to what we already know, as well as our own innate creativity, or perhaps to shape or interpret it according to our personalities.

      This fuzziness or cloudiness around the central object of our discipline/profession concerns me, particularly after I undertook an in-depth examination of definitions of the term ‘information’ that appeared in peer-reviewed, scholarly journals in our field(s). One way to assess the definitions of information found in the literature is to apply to them the linguistic test of substitution that is suggested by Steiner (1988). Without syntagmatic substitution, the definitions of ‘information’ that were found in this test corpus were used to complete the sentence, “IPs collect, organise, describe, manage, preserve and make accessible… ”. What results is a comprehensive mapping of IPs’ current preferred view of their core professional practices. [I’m sorry that I do not yet know how to make words appear in bold on a blog, which would perhaps make this all clearer, so please bear with me].

      1. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible processed data.
      2. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible data of value in decision-making.
      3. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform and use and make accessible the lifeblood of the knowledge-based organisation.
      4. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible potential knowledge.
      5. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible anything that makes sense.
      6. IPs collect, organise, describe, manage, preserve and make accessible something that is intended to make sense.
      7. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible a perception of pattern.
      8. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible an objective phenomenon, something that is generated by, transmitted in, received and stored in physical media, but the existence of which is independent of an interpreting agent.
      9. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible the presence of a 1 or 0 in a bit.
      10. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible a stimulus which expands or amends the World View of the informed.
      11. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible the pattern of organisation of matter and energy that has been given meaning by a living being.
      12. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible a transformation of one communication of an information association into another communication of the same association.
      13. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible communicated messages that convey meaning.
      14. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible the raw material for knowledge.
      15. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible what people or systems need to be able to carry out work practices.
      16. IPs investigate the properties and behavior of, and collect, organise, store, retrieve, describe, interpret, transmit, transform, use and make accessible the pattern of organization of matter and energy.

      But to return to your question more directly, Enrico. The DIK(W) is used throughout the literature from computer science, library science, information science and recordkeeping. The DIK model is understood to relate, in some way, to the Shannon/Weaver model which, according to US information scientists in particular, is the ‘Information Theory’ behind the discipline. I would argue that the Shannon/Weaver ‘communication’ model is a transmission model, developed by engineers to measure the transmission of a signal, and was never intended to portray human communication (which is far more complex and interactive) and certainly not to explain Information Theory as the backbone or reason for the information professions included here.

    • I have used Google Translator to translate my reply into Italian. I am investigating adding widgets that allow for more or less instant translation into other languages. Please bear with me.

      Sono così contento che questa domanda. La gerarchia DIK ha origini molto interessante, secondo Shara (2005) che ha intrapreso uno studio per scoprire quando questa metafora è stato usato per primo. Lo ha scoperto nel Harlan Cleveland nel 1982, e poi a Milano Zeleny nel 1987. Ma la gerarchia è la prima volta suggerito in una poesia di TS Eliot, pubblicato nel 1934, chiamato Il coro della roccia:
      Dove è la Vita che abbiamo perso in vita?
      Dov’è la saggezza che abbiamo perso nella conoscenza?
      Dov’è la conoscenza che abbiamo perduto nell’informazione?
      It è sorprendente che il lavoro d’informazione dovrebbero cercare essersi considerata come una scienza basata su una definizione dell’oggetto di base del suo dominio di conoscenza che viene dato in una poesia, ma è una pretesa equally sorprende, dato che il hierarchy DIK non aggiunge molto per stabilire la natura di questi concetti. Inoltre, i dizionari (la definizione ‘lessicali’) descrivono queste parole, in termini di vicenda, senza che indica che non vi è alcuna relazione tra di loro a tutti. Come noto, il modello DIK (lascio fuori Sapienza deliberatamente, come io credo che al di fuori della nostra sfera professionale). che sembra spiegare le relazioni tra dati, informazioni e conoscenze, si presta bene per gli informatici, anche se le connessioni supposto implicito della gerarchia sono piuttosto superficiali. Ancora più importante, ha poco da offrire quelli di noi che si occupano di informazioni registrate.
      In particolare, le nostre professioni sono basa sul presupposto che l’informazione è utile alle persone – se non immediatamente, forse più tardi (e io sono fraseggio questo come apertamente e liberamente come posso). Cercando di immaginare di ‘informazione’ che può essere utile alle persone che si compone di ‘dati trattati’ non ha senso per me. E ‘un po’ come qualcuno forse conoscendo il contenuto di un intero Enciclopedia: è questa persona esperta? Direi che una persona è più simile a un idiot savant, in quanto vi è poco spazio per la comprensione e la creazione del significato che noi esseri umani sono in grado di, o per la capacità di modificare in arrivo ‘informazione’ o ‘responsabili’ o ‘esperienza’ secondo quanto già sappiamo, così come la nostra creatività innata, o forse in una forma o interpretare in base alle nostre personalità.
      Questa confusione o della nuvolosità in giro per l’oggetto centrale della nostra disciplina / professione mi riguarda, in particolare dopo che ho effettuato un esame approfondito delle definizioni di ‘informazione’ il termine che è apparso nel peer-reviewed, riviste accademiche nel nostro campo (s). Un modo per valutare le definizioni di informazioni che si trovano in letteratura è quello di applicare loro il test linguistico di sostituzione che è suggerito da Steiner (1988). Senza sostituzione sintagmatica, le definizioni di ‘informazione’ che sono stati trovati in questo corpus di prova sono stati utilizzati per completare la frase, “IPS raccogliere, organizzare, descrivere, gestire, conservare e rendere accessibile …”. Il risultato è una mappatura completa di vista corrente preferito IP ‘delle loro pratiche di base professionale. [Mi dispiace che io ancora non so come fare le parole evidenziate in grassetto su un blog, che forse rendono tutto questo più chiaro, quindi per favore abbiate pazienza con me].
      1. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibili i dati trattati.
      2. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibili i dati di valore nel processo decisionale.
      3. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare e utilizzare e rendere accessibile la linfa vitale della organizzazione basata sulla conoscenza.
      4. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibile la conoscenza potenziale.
      5. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibile qualsiasi cosa che abbia un senso.
      6. IPs raccogliere, organizzare, descrivere, gestire, conservare e rendere accessibile qualcosa che è destinato ad avere un senso.
      7. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibile una percezione di pattern.
      8. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibile un fenomeno oggettivo, qualcosa che è generato da, trasmessa in, ricevuti e memorizzati in supporti fisici, ma la cui esistenza è indipendente da un agente di interpretariato.
      9. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibile la presenza di un 1 o 0 in un po ‘.
      10. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibile uno stimolo che si espande o modifica la visione del mondo della informato.
      11. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibile il modello di organizzazione della materia e dell’energia che è stato dato significato da un essere vivente.
      12. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibile una trasformazione di una comunicazione di un’associazione informazioni in un’altra comunicazione della stessa associazione.
      13. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibili i messaggi comunicato che attribuire un significato.
      14. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibile la materia prima per la conoscenza.
      15. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibile ciò che le persone o sistemi devono essere in grado di svolgere le pratiche di lavoro.
      16. IPs investigare le proprietà e il comportamento dei, e raccogliere, organizzare, archiviare, recuperare, descrivere, interpretare, trasmettere, trasformare, utilizzare e rendere accessibile il modello di organizzazione della materia e di energia.
      Ma per tornare alla tua domanda in modo più diretto, Enrico. I DIK (W) è usato in tutta la letteratura di informatica, biblioteconomia, scienze dell’informazione e dei registri. Il modello DIK è inteso mettere in relazione, in qualche modo, per il / model Shannon Weaver che, secondo gli scienziati informazioni degli Stati Uniti in particolare, è la “teoria dell’informazione” dietro la disciplina. Direi che lo Shannon / modello di “comunicazione” Weaver è un modello di trasporto, sviluppato dagli ingegneri per misurare la trasmissione di un segnale, e non è mai stato destinato a ritrarre la comunicazione umana (che è molto più complessa e interattiva) e non certo a spiegare Teoria dell’informazione come la spina dorsale o ragione per le professioni di informazioni contenute qui.

  3. Katherine Howard says:

    Dear Sue and all,

    Your view of the (information) world has had me pondering ever since I was first exposed to it in 2006, and I am fascinated by the DIKW thoughts in particular. In recent days I have been preparing for classes that I will teach for the first time on this topic, and of course, it got me pondering again!

    One area that I would like you to expand on, if you would, is the concept that “information [is] that part of the person’s knowledge that he or she chooses to share with others, and which he or she will represent using a language of their choice, which may be spoken language, or dance or art…” I understand that communication takes many forms (as you suggest), but I’m not clear about how much *information* is actually communicated by languages such as dance or art. Let’s take music for example (because as you know, I know a little about it!). What comes to mind here is the Schostakovich “Honest Communist / Secret Dissident” debate which continues to rage in musicology circles. Let’s argue that Dmitri was indeed trying to convey the horrors of Soviet Russia – has he communicated that information successfully if there are people who believe he was actually expounding its virtues?

    I understand that mis-communication and mis-information can happen even in a shared spoken language such as English, but a language such as music – even though I have the ability to “decode” it – has another level of abstraction to it than a spoken language (IMHO) and therefore the recipient does not necessarily (if ever) receive the intended message – as is evidenced by the Schostakovich debate. Of course there are those composers who use motives in a kind of “code” – Shostakovich is again an example who often used the notes D-E flat-C-B to represent himself (Dmitri SCHostakovich – pronounced “De-Es-Ce-Ha” where “H” is equivalent to B in German notation). Bach was another who has used a musical cryptogram of his name – B flat, A, C, B natural. Then there is the argument of “art for art’s sake”, but I’m not even going to go there!!

    So in summary – I guess I would like to hear your thoughts on the nature of the information that is communicated in forms such as music – is it indeed information if we do not understand the intended message, regardelss of whether we have the ability to decode or not – or have I missed something fundamental?!

    Katherine

    • Dear Katherine
      I wish I knew more about music when I am alerted to all these interesting ways of interpretation! But to answer your question: I think you have almost answered it yourself. If we wish to share the information (‘ideas’ or ‘knowledge’) that we have in our heads (and bodies), the only way we can do this is by representing the meaning some way. As humans, we use a variety of ways to do this: body language, facial expressions and so forth, and of course sound. The various sounds we make in language are constrained by our physiogomy, from grunts and growls to onomatipoeia, etc. These sounds, however, usually only carry meaning when that meaning is consistently applied and understood. In other words, meaning is arbitrarily attached to various sounds and sound patterns, but the important thing is that understanding the meaning must be understood by more than one person (at least).

      Mothers are very good at interpreting the squeaks of their offspring (and pet owners anthropmorphise their pets), but apart from that, the meaning of the sounds we make must have the same meaning attached to them by the listener – or audience – or ‘receiver’. So, meaning is made, or lost – partially or completely – according to the familiarity of the listener with the meaning-system – the culturally encoded meaning-system – that is being used. So, for example, I never knew those interesting facts about Shostakovich: so, while he was able to use his ‘language’ extremely well, the communication process can be said to have failed because I did not understand his language.

      How communication takes place, and whether it is successful or not, is a process apart from the nature of the information which is communicated, in my opinion. So, information is that part of knowledge that we select to share with certain people at certain times. The only way we have of sharing it (because telepathy does not seem to work) is by representing it in some way – sound, movement, gesture, mathematical codes, plastic and kinetic arts… In order for the information TO BE COMMUNICATED, however, the receiver or listener or audience of the culturally encoded information must be able to understand the representative symbols in which it is expressed.

      That’s one of the reasons why we learn reading, writing and ‘rithmetic at school, before any thing else. We cannot learn anything more until we have learnt to decipher the cultural symbols which surround us. Hopefully, our parents will have taught us our mother tongue before we start school, so that we can speak. Then we have to learn to convey our ideas to others over space and time, and to receive the ideas of others over space and time. Which is why I told you to remember this phrase: “overcoming spatio-temporal constraints”, which is one of the main purposes of our profession.

  4. getaneha says:

    I think there is always room for disagreement on defining anything. The DIKW linear hierarchy is even more prone to such disagreement as it tries to provide ‘singular’ definition to the questions ‘what is knowledge? and ‘what is wisdom?’. I agree with you that The DK in the DIKW reflects machine processing. Even this information that the computer produces may end up being data to another person, to another organisation etc. The notion that data progresses to knowledge and subsequently to wisdom is seems to me wrong. So I agree with you.

    It fails to reflect the cultural, linguistic and contextual variations. What is wisdom for knowledge to be wisdom? Doesn’t such understanding differ from person to person, culture to culture? Inevitably therefore we will have several definitions.

    In Everything is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger cites Martin Heidegger’s notion of what does it mean to be a hammer? For Heidegger to understand what a hammer is, one should know about nails, in order to know a nail, one should know about wood, in the same manner to understand what a wood is one should understand first what a lumber is, what a tree is, then earth…etc. For him, a hammer can be understood by understanding its referential context of significance. Similarly, to understand the meaning of DIKW the linguistic and cultural context is essential.

    • Yes, indeed: definitions themselves vary enormously in purpose – and defining ‘information’ has been notoriously difficult. For example, Schrader,in 1986, counted 134 separate notions of the concept of ‘information’ within the field of Information Science alone (Schrader, 1986, p. 179) – each unique. In my view, the major issue with the definition of information is derived from the different use made of the same term in the various disciplines, and by the use of different terms to refer to the same entity or activity within the same discipline.

      As opposed to the context-bound ascription of meaning in everyday language use, disciplinary theories – including one that might support the large and complex range involved with information management in its various guises – must rely upon strict use and conceptual clarity of terms, as used in their domain. And here we are attempting to reach some kind of conceptual clarity between or amongst domains. Researchers within a particular discipline use terms, or, semiotically speaking, ‘signifiers’, in order to indicate specific concepts, or concepts possessing specific characteristics within their particular domain – the ‘signified’. Such meaning is usually stipulated in an operational definition, so that the many other aspects of meaning ascribed to a term in everyday use are circumvented. However, in the case of ‘information’, which Diener describes as “so fundamental to sociality (it is ubiquitous to all human and societal interaction)”, (Diener, 1989, p. 17) a definition of the term is required that matches the overall requirements of the IPs, including supporting their social role as professions, the need for further theoretical development, suggestion for methodologies and possibly quanta of measurement. So an operational definition (or explanation) is desperately required.

      Furthermore, the definition of concepts guides the identification of relationships between concepts or phenomena. Phenomena may be complex and abstract, and may be interpreted in relation to the relationships with other concepts, facilitating interpretation, categorisation and understanding of the phenomena and their properties. And I agree wholeheartedly with the point you raise: CONTEXT is essential.

      What comprises that ‘context’ is of course also fluid and unfixed, and it operates on many levels. You have mentioned the linguistic and cultural: but there are also contexts of organisation, class, politics, economics and epistemologies, for example. And certainly, for the purposes of the discussion here, there are diverse disciplinary contexts, which have evolved over time, causing divergence. While fully recognising the differences and unique characteristics of each of these disciplines – and each has something unique and valuable to bring to the table – in the first instance perhaps we should focus on similarities: things we have in common. These areas of commonality may include work processes or procedures, problems and issues to deal with, education and training, or whatever, and in order for us all to understand each other, conceptual clarity (what is the ‘signified’ or the thing referred to?) when particular words (terms) are used. So that, for example, I know that when you mention ‘chocolate cake’ you are talking about Sachertorte, whereas a records manager may be referring to Black Forest cake, and another to Panforte.

      I do like the example you’ve used, which illustrates the connectedness of context – certainly something to think about.

    • getaneha says:

      >>Dmitri was indeed trying to convey the horrors of Soviet Russia – has he communicated that information successfully if there are people who believe he was actually expounding its virtues?>>

      I don’t know much about music. However, Clay Shirky is right in pointing out that “the semantics is on the users” (Shirky, Ontology is overrated, 2005). That is to say the interpretation of Dimitri’s music depends on the listeners’ understanding of whether he is an ‘honest communist’ or ‘secret dissident’. This is especially true in art such as music, painting, etc. The readers will derive their own conceptualisation. This view is true if we accept that ‘we do make sense of the world’ but that ‘the world by itself does not make sense’. According to Shirky “if you believe the world makes sense, then anyone who tries to make sense of the world differently than you is presenting you with a situation that needs to be reconciled formally, because if you get it wrong, you’re getting it wrong about the real world”.

      I remain to be corrected, but I’m of the view that there is no ‘single’ reality out there! But we collectively construct it. And even this construction will not stand the test of time and we will collectively modify it as we see fit. And this is apparent is humanities and the arts 🙂

      God Bless Australia!

      Getaneh

      • Well chosen comments from Shirky! Yes, indeed – as we all struggle to come to terms with reality (is that putting it too strongly?) we all have different experiences and, perhaps even more importantly, we all derive quite diverse meanings from our physical (and intellectual) experiences. At a simplistic level, it’s the old ‘glass half-full/glass half-empty’. Our memories are selective too: we may remember things that are really random and trivial, while forgetting really important or significant things. Consider those who apparently ‘forget’ the trauma of sexual abuse.
        So, while I agree with you that we collectively construct various realities, there can never be any one particular construction: one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

  5. Just in:
    Tallinn University, one of the European universities where the International Master’s in Digital Libraries Learning is offered, has a new website:
    http://www.tlu.ee/~sirvir/DILL/DILL/Index.html

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