Academic journal article Georgia Journal of Ecological Anthropology

An Essay on Lifespan Development from the Perspective of Information Ecology

Academic journal article Georgia Journal of Ecological Anthropology

An Essay on Lifespan Development from the Perspective of Information Ecology

Article excerpt


Human ontogeny may be viewed as a course of transitions through informational states. This paper is an attempt to model the informational niches through which some individuals pass in American society. The individual modeled is an essentialized European American middle-class male energy producer. The framework adopted is based predominately on social psychological principles as applied to the domain of lifespan development. However, the perspectives of social psychology are here merged with the nascent field of information ecology. The specific transactions that occur between individuals and the larger social matrix here modeled are informational in nature (demarcations of status, symbolic interactionism, educational manipulation of ideological states, socially negotiated concepts of self, etc.). Also, some key concepts from information ecology are applied as explicative of human ontogeny and the development of the social self.

Some Key Concepts

Over the course of the lifespan, humans exploit several informational niches, each with some unique affordances. Affordance (here borrowed from Gibson 1979), refers to aspects of the environment that are perceived by organisms as having some value for them (Neisser 1993). For information ecology, the niche may be seen as comprising access to different informational affordances. Some affordances may be utilized to obtain the same goals (such as status) but be encoded differently in different ontogenetic phases. Thus a football jersey and a stock portfolio may afford some of the same social benefits, but have radically different forms and be relevant only within certain age-graded environmental contexts. It should be stressed that affordances for many organisms require agency (in the form of creativity, experimentation, or insight) to be perceived and acted upon as significant. The same is true of informational affordances. Their apprehension, by definition, requires some perceptive ability, and occasionally strategy and goal directedness, to be seen as affordances. Part of the challenge for humans is to negotiate their informational environments and evaluate affordances, as well as learn to manipulate information in ways to increase their access to particular utilities of affordances, while avoiding their harmful negative features. One of the important aspects of being human is that much of this can be done by the manipulation of informational fields, instead of always at the level of immediate, personal, somatic risk.

Notes Regarding the Text

The text of this paper is not intended to stand alone as a guide through lifespan development within information ecology. Instead the text is designed to further explain the content of the various graphic models presented in Figures 1 through 6. The text is divided under subheadings which are the titles of the graphic models to which they refer. Table 1 (below) provides an overview of the phase of life that the models illustrate. The most beneficial approach is to read through the subheadings while looking at the model to which it refers. Neither the models or text are autonomous.

Phase 1- Birth to Daycare (Fig. 1a)

This period is largely confined to the home environment(s). The major nexus of social interaction is between the infant and the primary caregiver (graphically depicted as the mother). Information is abundant, however the receptive skills of the infant remain incompletely known. Environmental inputs may be directed toward the infant tinfant directed speech or motor interaction) or be ambient (encoded in the design of the nursery, music played, etc.). Often, informational interactions are prop mediated (depicted as a rattle). Props may be used in connection with indexical communication to provide information about the properties of objects themselves, or merely to provided an informational location for interaction of a social nature. The infant is an agent in many ways, crying or otherwise informing caregivers of bodily states, levels of arousal, etc. …

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