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Memetic and Information Diseases in a Knowledge Society

Speculations towards the development of cures and preventive measures (Part #1)


Introduction
Approaches to information-related diseases
Classification of information diseases
Excesses in the information diet
Deficiencies in the information diet
Alternative and complementary models of information health and disease
Supplements to an information diet and inexplicable information needs
Mental disorders as disorders of information processing
Emergence of "social diseases" in association with "social networking"?
Public health
Potential implications of "causes of death" for "information death"
Sensory deprivation and Insight enhancement?
"Knowledge diseases" and "Wisdom diseases"
Value and ethical diseases and disorders?
Preliminary conclusions
References

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Introduction

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.

For a deliberately humorous attempt to identify how systems fail, a study of "systemantics " merits attention (John Gall. Systemantics; how systems work and especially how they fail, 1977). The humour does not detract from an underlying profundity. An attempt to categorize different kinds of system problems also throws some light on the matter.

In commentary on the collective significance of the "world problems" profiled in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (1976/1994), one suggested metaphor was to consider them as disorders and diseases (Problem metaphors):

Problems may be considered to be in some way the social equivalent of foreign bodies circulating in the human bloodstream (requiring the action of antibodies), or of different diseases affecting the different structures and processes of the human body. In the light of this metaphor the editorial process can be viewed as an exercise in social pathology, an effort to identify the range of ills to which the human environment is subject. To some extent the product therefore has a function analogous to that of the WHO International Classification of Diseases or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (of the American Psychiatric Association).

This disease metaphor is useful because of its familiarity. It has a degree of legitimacy through the biochemical information that is recognized as vital to the healthy functioning of a body. This perspective also has recognized legitimacy through understanding of cybernetic control systems. These perspectives appear somewhat distant from understandings of individuals as agents processing information in an information society and, by extension, in a universe of knowledge. With regard to notions of a universe of information, a helpful overview is provided in Future Feeder; Journal of Architecture and Information (2005, 1) states:

Much of physics and cosmology now thinks of information as ranking with matter and energy as a fundamental property of the universe. With this ranking comes the notion that information can be transformed (including to and from matter and energy) but it cannot be destroyed...

However it is not the purpose of this discussion to focus initially on such implications. Such more general understandings of information are discussed in a closing section on "Knowledge diseases" and "Wisdom diseases". A more general focus also suggests that this exploration might have focused on "memetic disorders" and "information disorders" rather than relying on the disease metaphor.

ders" and "information disorders" rather than relying on the disease metaphor.


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