Juliet? Othello? Were they both just bad at personal information management?

Information is the stuff of communication. Approaches involving assessments of information value and the effectiveness of communication are now widespread from biology (e.g., protein synthesis, genetics) to physics[i]. In a human context, failures of communication may be technical in nature as when we “break up” in a cell phone call. But many failures to communicate are usefully regarded, instead, as failures of personal information management.
The messenger never reaches Romeo with the news that Juliet isn’t really dead but rather in a deathlike coma from which she will awake. But really? Only one messenger? No redundancy? No verification (i.e. by the friar who promised Juliet he would dispatch the messenger)? With better information management we might have had a comedy rather than a tragedy.[ii]
At least intentions – of Romeo, Juliet, Friar Laurence and, presumably, the messenger – were good. Consider another of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello, in which Iago, as the villain, does not intend to “inform” but rather to deceive. Othello, fooled by Iago’s treachery, smothers his beloved Desdemona convinced she has committed adultery and only learning ---  too late! – of her innocence [iii]But really? No vetting and cross-checking of Iago as a source of information? No independent validation?
It might be said – with tongue only slightly in cheek – that  Juliet and Friar Laurence as senders of information and Othello as a receiver of information are better seen not as the tragic victims of communication failure but rather as perpetrators of egregious mistakes of information management --- the kind of mistakes we would expect a student – certainly by graduate school and with only the rudiments of training in information literacy – to avoid. Alas training in information literacy is still not widespread not even at the collegiate level[iv].
We each, as the heroes of our own stories and in our daily interactions with a wide range of characters, practice social kinds of information management at a personal level i.e. social PIM. When sending an email message, for example, we decide whom to place on the to: line, whom to place on the cc: line of , whom to place on the “bcc:” line and whom to leave out altogether. We may send a text message instead knowing that the recipient obsessively checks and responds to texts but only checks email occasionally. Or we may walk down to someone’s office to deliver bad news in person. We even practice a kind of social PIM with ourselves as, for example, when we archive a document or caption and save a photograph directed to our future selves as best we can ever know these – some years into the future[v].

[i] For an accounting of information theoretic approaches to physics, see, for example, (Mézard & Montanari, 2009)or the more accessible (Gleick, 2012). Or if time is short, try the following chapter by chapter summary first (Graham, 2013). 

[ii] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romeo_and_Juliet,, for a synopsis of the play Romeo and Juliet or for full text, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book:Romeo_and_Juliet.

[iii] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Othello for a synopsis of Othello or for full text see http://read.libripass.com/william_shakespeare-othello.htm.

[iv] For more on the state of information literacy in our schools see (Eisenberg, Lowe, & Spitzer, 2004).

[v] Considerations of social PIM i.e., of deciding what to communicate with whom, when and how, relate closely to notions of a theory of mind. For a nice write up see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_mind or well-cited academic classics such as (Baron-Cohen, Leslie, & Frith, 1985; Perner, 1991; Premack & Woodruff, 1978).



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