Thursday, May 11, 2006

Walking in the Web

Ambient Findability is a lover's biography. Peter Morville admits his affair with the Web, and while the story suffers from the enthusiasm of a writer too close to his subject, he knows her laws, her secrets, her hopes for the future, and is more than willing to share them.

The Web is really information, he tells us, and humans have a strange way of looking for it. Mooers' Law insists that people won't look for information if it's "painful" or "troublesome" to have; we find what makes us happy and ignore everything else. Morville identifies five irrational rules we apply in our searching: the anchoring or our first impression, the confirmation of what we believe, the memorability of the recent or dramatic, the status quo of preferring  to do nothing, and the sunk cost of justifying ourselves.

2004 Annenberg survey that found "Daily Show" viewers more informed than people who watched the real news or read the newspaper could validate his point. Politics might be easier to digest with humor, and when difficult concepts are no longer perceived as "painful and troublesome," we recall them better. Marry Poppins was the greatest prophet of our era. A revolution of information requires a little comedy. Most problems start with people who take themselves too seriously, so why not fight back with laughter? The complexity of the world is only growing, and we're in danger of losing control if we can't find a coping strategy.

"Ambient findability" occurs when everything in the world is instantly findable. Imagine an RFID tag for every shirt, cow, and paperweight in the world, instantly accessible through an interocular GPS. Morville doesn't tell us whether we want this state and doubts we'll ever get there, but we can't help moving toward it. He doesn't consider that we might even naturally desire it. The Pirahãs mentioned yesterday live close to ambient findability in space and time. They know their territory, and everything is always the same in nature to the extent of their worldview.

Moreville explains that as the complexity of our own systems grows, they lose "precision" and "recall." This creates a paradox; at what point does the information around us become so "useful" that we can only process it as meaningless noise? This is information overload, and it already harms concentration more than smoking marijuana.

This is a guide to pop culture as much as a handbook to the Web, and its concepts are worth understanding for anyone who doesn't live in the jungle. The title directly relates to this blog, as everything around us is information, and living in the present means being able to process that information meaningfully. We all might not love the Web as much as Morville, but we're already married to it and through it.


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