Christopher Lueg (2005).
"Navigating the real world or: The trouble of embodiment"

Contribution to the 5th Annual Research Symposium of the Special Interest Group on Information Needs, Seeking, and Use (SIGUSE 2005) at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T), 29 October 2005, Charlotte, NC, USA.

Abstract: Being interested in information science and embodied cognitive science for a number of years I would like to use the opportunity to explore if researchers looking at special populations feel that their understanding of specific information behaviors might benefit from a deeper understanding of physical and physiological aspects of information behavior. We are exploring related aspects as part of research investigating tourists exploring unknown terrain. Conducting experiments in very hot and humid tropical conditions we were facing issues such that certain landmarks were present but in fact "unavailable" for navigation due to environmental conditions. For example, one of the subjects hopping from shade to shade could not see certain landmarks because of the resulting position; another subject was irritated by color shifts because of wearing sunglasses protecting the eyes from harsh tropical light. These issues had a strong impact on subjects' information behavior but I think it's reaonable to state that at this stage, our understanding of physical and physiological aspects is not as thorough as we would wish (which is everything but surprising as disciplines such as biology or psychology struggle as well in their respective areas). Embodiment as a constituent of human-information interaction appears to be worth more attention though as more recent perspectives in cognitive science question the traditional separation between mind and body, and also the separation between body and environment (eg Clark 1997; Resnick et al. 1997). Spatial arrangements, for example [well known from library layout or desktop arrangements], have been identified as not only supporting but enabling human cognitive capabilities. Certain spatial arrangements appear to help reduce task complexity and are used to "outsource" memory capacity (Clark 1997). There is an increasing number of information science scholars interested in physical and physiological information behavior aspects; scholars, such as Bates or Spink, work on comprehensive frameworks. Erdelez (2004) mentions evaluating eye-tracking technology to capture subtle changes in shifting user's attention. Baker's (2004) study of police involved in undercover work basically bumps into issues that are closely related to physical and physiological aspects information behavior eg in observations like "[...] headlights from on-coming cars blocked the vision of the eye [i.e., car with officers watching the decoy] with whom she was parked on the side street; however, the eye parked on the main street had the decoy in his view." To some extent, all the populations mentioned in the CfP are constrained in specific ways that are related to physical and physiological conditions and I would like to raise the question how researchers deal with with issues like the ones we were facing. Analyses as detailed as those aimed at investigating distributed cognition ("The basic unit of analysis must connect thinking to action in the world and contribute to clarifying precisely how cognition enters into and is part of the diverse set of tasks in which people engage.") may be too difficult to accomplish when looking at larger populations but what is the best level of analysis?

added 10 July 2007