1/20: Introduction

1/22: Conceptual Analysis

1/27: How Much Information?

1/29: Information Theory

2/3: Philosophy

2/5: Cybernetics

2/10: History - I

2/12: Data

2/17: History II

2/19: Organization - I

2/24: Organization - II

2/26: Economics I

3/3: Economics II - Symmetry

3/5: Politics I

3/10: Objectivity & Truth

3/12: Politics II: The State

3/17: Personal Information

3/19: Education

3/31: Final Outline Presentation

4/2: Public Sphere

4/7: Net as Public Sphere


4/14: Quality (cont.)

4/16: Development

4/21: Cognitive Science

4/23: Cognitive Science II

4/28: IP

4/30: Info Literacy & Wrap

Info 218: Concepts of Information Spring 2015

School of Information, UC Berkeley

Paul Duguid, Geoffrey Nunberg, instructors

Syllabus & Readings

Week 1

January 20:   Introduction: In search of information
Background: Suggested:
  • James Gleick, The Information, A History, A Theory, A Flood, Vintage 2002. Useful and readable background on some of the topics we will cover, and some we won't (the role of "information" in the biological and physical sciences). Available from Amazon or at your local bookstore.
January 22:   Concepts & Keywords
Reading: Background: Geoff's slides

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Week 2

January 27:   Exercise: How Much Information

In his introduction to the special section of IJOC [see "background reading," below], Martin Hilbert argues that it is not only statistically feasible, but also analytically insightful to quantify the amount of information handled by society (Hilbert, 2012). As best you can, quantify the amount of information you handle (i.e., create or store or consume etc.) in the course of one four-to-eight hour period, whether at home, at school, or elsewhere. Remember to include not just the types of sources discussed by Bohn & Short and Lyman & Varian, but also the “incidental” and ambient information that we encounter as we drive to work, eat breakfast, or call home; the idea here is to spread the net as widely as possible. Feel free to use whatever measures or metrics seem appropriate to the task, coming up with your own if necessary. Assess the statistical feasibility and analytic insightfulness of the result: what questions does the exercise raise for a theory of “information” in the large?to the special section of IJOC [see "background reading," below].
Reading: Background:
  • Green, John C. 1964. "The Information Explosion: Real or Imaginary." Science 144(3619): 646-648.
  • Hilbert, Martin, et al. 2012. "Info Capacity" International Journal of Communication [Special Section] 6.
  • Kallinkikos, Jannis. 2006. The Consequences of Information: Institutional Implications of Technological Change. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
  • Lesk, Michael. 1996. "How Much Information is There in the World?"
  • Machlup, Fritz. 1962. The Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor. 2009. Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Pool, I. de S. 1983. "Tracking the Flow of Information." Science 221(4611): 609-613.
  • Porat, Marc U.  1977. The Information Economy: Sources and Methods for Measuring the Primary Information Sector. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

January 29:   Information Theory
  • Shannon, C.E. 1948. "A Mathematical Theory of Communication." Bell Systems Technical Journal July & October (Reprinted in ACM SIGMOBILE 5(1) 2001: 3-55.
  • Shannon,  C.E. 1956. "The Bandwagon." IRE Transactions on InformationTheory 2: 3.
Background: Fifty years after its publication, Sergio Verdu described Shannon's "Mathematical Theory of Communication" as "the Magna Carta of the information age." It gave us most the conceptual apparatus we use in talking about information -- bits and bandwidth. The paper itself is difficult, but it's one that anyone in a "School of Information" ought at least to have looked at. Here's a strategy: Read along until you come to a paragraph you don't understand. Read it again, then go on until you come to another paragraph you can't follow. Read it a second time, then procede until you come to a third paragraph you can't follow, at which point you can bail. For a good synopsis of what Shannon was getting at, you could read the Encylopedia Britannica article on "Information Theory."
Background: Geoff's slides

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Week 3
February 3:   The Philosophy of Information
Reading: Background:
  • Israel, David & John Perry, "What is Information?" pp. 1-19 in P. Hanson, ed., Information, Language and Cognition. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
  • Dretske, F. I. 1981. Knowledge and the Flow of Information. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Dretske, Fred. 1986. "Misrepresentation" in R. Bogdan, ed., Belief: Form, Content, and Function. Oxford University Press.
  • Floridi, Luciano. 2011. The Philosophy of Information. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Foley, Richard, 1987. "Dretske's Information-Theoretic Account of Knowledge." Synthese (70) 2: 159-184.

February 5:  Information & Cybernetics
Reading: Background
  • Ashby, W. Ross. 1957. An Introduction to Cybernetics. London: Chapman & Hall.
  • Babbage, Charles. 1832. On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. London: Charles Knight.
  • Bell, Daniel. 1976. The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting. New York, NY: Basic Books.
  • Beniger, James R. 1986. The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society. Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press.
  • Boyd, Rayward W. 1999. "H.G. Wells's Idea of a World Brain: A Critical Reassessment." Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(7): 557-573.
  • Kelly, Kevin. 1994. Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World. New York: Addison-Wesley.
  • MacKay, Donald. 1969. Information, Mechanism, and Meaning. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
  • Mayr, Otto. 1989. Authority, Liberty, and Automatic Machinery in Early Modern Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Sjoblom, Gustav. 2011. "Control in the History of Computing: Making an Ambiguous Concept Useful."IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. 33(3): 89-90.
  • Yates, JoAnne. 1989. Control through Communication: The Rise of System in American Management. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

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Week 4
February 10:  History of information — I: Before the 19th Century
Reading: Background:
February 12: Information and Data

Background: Geoff's slides

Week 5
February 17
History of information — II: The Last 200 Years.
  • Nunberg, Geoffrey, 1996.  "Farewell to the Information Age" pp 103-138 in G.Nunberg, ed., The Future of the Book. Berkeley: University of California Press. [Read pp. 1-23. of this version.]
  • The Oxford English Dictionary entry for 'information'. Go to the OED here and look up information. You can skip the first senses under I, but look closely at senses II.4.a; II.5a-e, 6. Look also at the compounds at the end of the entry. Try to read the citations as well, at least from the 18th c. on -- often these help to fill in exactly what the definition means. 
  • See also Frank Webster's article on "information" in Bennett's New Keywords (above), here.
Background: Geoff's handout

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February 19: Information and the Organization of Knowledge
Background: Geoff's Handout

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Week 6
Feb 24:   Information and the Organization of Knowledge (continued)

Exercise - The internet and the organization of knowledge:
    What happens to this global conception of the structure of knowledge in the age of Wikipedia and similar efforts? Is it still preserved in some form? Do the Wikipedians think they're reproducing it (as the -pedia suggests)? Or if it's essentially pluralist and fragmentary, can we really still speak of knowledge as opposed simply to information? One way to come at this is to pick a general topic area in Wikipedia that doesn't have a canonical internal structure (i.e., it doesn't reproduce the contents of an academic curriculum, like a topic in mathematics or cell biology, and its structure isn't determined more-or-less straightforwardly by the properties of its subject -- e.g., an entry for a city, a commercial product, or the career trajectory of a rock band). What we're looking for is "monsters," entries that sit uneasily at the intersection of several distinct knowledge domains, reflecting differences in subject matter, community, etc., and consequently scattered in coverage, tone &/or point of view. (Sometimes this is evident from the "see also" or "external link" sections.)
    There's no algorithm for finding these things (is that a logical consequence of their definition?) but see if you can dig one or two out and speculate about what they say about the organization of knowledge.


    One can simply bang around in an area one is familiar with (but again, not one that has a standardized canonical structure) looking for entries that suggest the overapping of knowledge categories associated with different domains -- that is, that would present complications for the Encyclopédie picture of knowledge. Some examples that have worked in previous years: glamour, profanity, buttocks, superficial charm, high tech

February 26: Information & Economics - I
Reading: Background: Zeitgeist:

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Week 7
March 3:   Economics II - Looking for Symmetry
Reading: Exercise:
    Stiglitz and Akerlof might each be read as struggling so show how "information" works in ways more complex than Stigler's article reflects. To explain their models of used-car and job-seeking markets, they rely on an underlying notion of symmetry. To tease out their assumptions, choose an example in which symmetry (rather than asymmetry) appears feasible. Then consider, perhaps, the "mechanism" of circulation, the process of "assimilation" (and even of "creation"), and the "value" of information; its relation to knowledge, or ways in which information imperfections might be different from asymmetries. What would we need to assume about the market, the goods, and the people involved? How far could we expect such assumptions to generalize? Work, if you can, in groups of two or three. Send slides or links, ahead.

March 5:   Information & Politics - I
Reading: Background:
  • Carey, James W. 1991. "The Press, Public Opinion, and Public Discourse" in T.L. Glasser & C. T.Salmon, eds., Public Opinion and the Communication of Consent. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Dewey, John. 2003. "The Public and its Problems" in Andreas Hess, ed., American Social and Political Thought. New York: NYU Press.
  • Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper and Row.
  • Downs, Anthony. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy." The Journal of Political Economy 65(2): 135-150.
  • Kinder, Donald R., 2003. "Communication and Politics in the Age of Information" in D. O. Sears and L. Huddy, eds., Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Page, Benjamin I. and Robert Y. Shapiro, 1992. The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans' Policy Preferences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

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Week 8
March 10:   Information, Objectivity, & Truth

Find an issue around which there's been a good deal public debate which has the following properties:
A. It isn't basically "cultural," where positions reflect fundamental differences in social values, so that purely factual information isn’t likely to change people’s minds (e.g., abortion, same-sex marriage etc.)

B. It’s generally regarded as a legitimate matter of controversy (not, e.g., like vaccination).

C.  It involves a number of informational claims, whether or not they’re comprehensible or evaluable by the average citizen.
D. It may have partisan implications, but views on it aren't sharply polarized along party lines. Some examples would be net neutrality, online privacy (some one specific aspect or issue of this), programs for mortgage debt forgiveness/ workouts, alimony reform, campus speech codes.
Find an article or commentary dealing with the issue that presents itself as “objective,” according to some of Mindich’s criteria—detached, nonpartisan, balanced, “pyramid style,” “facticity” (i.e., emphasizing reporting of “facts”; or “naïve empiricism”). In your opinion, is the “objectivity” of the story or commentary a matter of style, “ritural,” or content? What assumptions (about the subject, the reader, and the writer) are implicit or presupposed in the treatment. Do the features that make for objectivity further the purpose of informing the reader?

Reading: Background: Zeitgeist: March 12:   Information & Politics II: the State
Reading: Background:
  • Agar, John. 2003.  The Government Machine: A Revolutionary History of the Computer. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Bayly, C.A. 1998. Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780-1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Campbell-Kelly, Martin. 1996.  "Information Technology and Organizational change in the British Census, 1801-1911" Information Systems Research 7(1): 22-36.
  • Cullen, Michael J. 1975. The Statistical Movement in Early Victorian Britain: The Foundations of Empirical Social Research. Harvester Press: New York.
  • Hacking, Ian. 1990. The Taming of Chance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Headrick, Daniel R. 2000. When Information Came of Age: Technologies of Knowledge in the Age of Reason and Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Rusnock, Andrea A. 2002. Vital Accounts: Quantifying Health and Population in England and France. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Zeitgeist: Paul's Slides

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Week 9
March 17:   Personal Information

Background: March 19:  Information & Education

Reading: Background:
  • Brown, John S. & Paul Duguid. 1996. "The University in the Digital Age." The Times Higher Education Supplement (May): 1-4.
  • Lave, Jean & Etienne Wenger. 1991. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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Week 10
Spring Break

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Week 11
March 31:   Presentation of final paper outlines

April 2: The Public Sphere  

Reading: Background:

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Week 12
April 7:   From the Bourgeois Public Sphere to the Internet
Reading: Background: Zeitgeist: Geoff's slides

April 9:   Information & Quality - Exercise
    Benkler contends that "peer production" has "broad implications" that reach beyond software development to the "information, knowledge, and culture economy."  The suggestion raises questions about quality in and beyond software production. Some have dismissed the issue as uninteresting because “The method of ensuring quality [is] … Darwinian ... People just produce whatever they want; the good stuff spreads, and the bad gets ignored” (Paul Graham, 2005) or “The ultimate barometer of quality is: if it gets shared, it’s quality”  (Emerson Spartz, quoted in the New Yorker, 1/5/15). Can we develop a better understanding of the challenge of quality in open source beyond software?  To see if you can, take a project (preferably one that you rely on) that has been developed around Benkler-like peer-production strategies and that reflects his goals of escaping entrapment by either “market” or “hierarchy” (or both)--you can include Wikipedia, despite its increasingly hierarchical structure.  Devise a way to run a manageable yet worthwhile check on its quality and indicate your sense of the significance of your findings (good or bad) for assessing the project as a whole as well as evaluating Benkler’s argument. (See Duguid 2006 and/or Nunberg 2009 or 2015, below, for examples.)
Reading: Background: Paul's slides

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Week 13
April 14:  
Information & Intellectual Property
    Boyle, James. 2009. "Preface," pp. i-xvi in Shamans, Software, and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Landes, William, & Richard Posner. 1987. "Trademark Law: An Economic Perspective." Journal of Law & Economics30(2):265-309.
Background: April 16:   Information & Development
Reading: Background:

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Week 14
April 21:   Information & Cognitive Science I
Reading: Background:
Geoff's slides
April 23:   Information & Cognitive Science II
Reading: Background:
  • Dreyfus, Hubert L. 1979. What Computers Can't Do: The Limits of Artificial Intelligence. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Duguid, Paul. 2012."On Rereading: Suchman and Situated Action." Le Libellio d'AEGIS 8(2): 3-9.
  • Floridi, Luciano. 2014. The 4th Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Lave, Jean. 1988. Cognition in Practice: Mind, Mathematics, and Culture in Everyday Life. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Searle, John. 2014. "What Your Computer Can't Know." New York Review of Books October 9.
  • Suchman, Lucy. 2007. Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Koschmann, Timothy, et al. 2003. "Plans and Situated Actions: A Retro-Review." Journal of the Learning Sciences 12(2) 257-306, special section on Suchman's work.

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Week 15
April 28:    Information & Intellectual Property
    Boyle, James. 2009. "Preface," pp. i-xvi in Shamans, Software, and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Landes, William, & Richard Posner. 1987. "Trademark Law: An Economic Perspective." Journal of Law & Economics30(2):265-309.
Background: April 30:  Information Literacy & Wrap
Reading: Background:

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Week 16

Reading Week
May 7:   Final paper presentations

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Week 17

May 15: Final paper due